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Justice Department national security chief resigns over snooping on Democrats

·2-min read
John Demers gives a press briefing at the Justice Department (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
John Demers gives a press briefing at the Justice Department (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The head of the US Justice Department’s national security division will step down amid reports that the agency sought phone records and other information from at least two Democratic members of Congress and their families over a leak investigation.

The New York Times reported on Monday that John Demers, who was appointed under former President Donald Trump, will resign next week. His resignation comes as the agency faces a whirlwind of criticism over whether it was weaponised by the Trump administration to go after the former president’s political enemies.

Journalists at the Times, CNN and The Washington Post were also targeted by the leak investigations, which occurred under two attorneys general, Jeff Sessions and William Barr.

Mr Demers is not thought to have been personally involved in the leak investigations which have now captured the scrutiny of journalists and Democrats on Capitol Hill, as he was confirmed to direct the national security division of the agency just days after the subpoenas were issued targeting House Democrats including Rep Adam Schiff, chair of the Intelligence Committee.

He had faced calls in recent days for his testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee over the issue, and the Department of Justice’s inspector general is also looking into the reports.

Mr Demers’s resignation is the first to occur as a result of the widening leak probe scandal, which represents a virtually unprecedented effort by an administration to tamp down on leaks to the media surrounding the investigation into former President Trump and his ties to Russia. The seizure of phone records by journalists and members of Congress is exceedingly rare, as are efforts to force news outlets to not disclose such information to viewers.

The investigations have been sharply condemned by Mr Schiff and other Democrats in recent days.

“The politicisation of the Department and the attacks on the rule of law are among the most dangerous assaults on our democracy carried out by the former President,” said Mr Schiff in a statement last week.

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