Justice Dept. to Tighten Rules on Seizing Congressional Data

Tom Brenner for The New York Times

The Justice Department will tighten its rules for when law enforcement officials may seize information about members of Congress and their aides, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said on Monday amid a political uproar over a Trump-era subpoena in which investigators collected data on several Democratic lawmakers and staff members.

Mr. Garland said in a statement that he had asked his deputy, Lisa O. Monaco, to review and toughen the department’s existing policies “for obtaining records of the legislative branch,” noting that she “is already working on surfacing potentially problematic matters deserving high-level review.”

He added: “Consistent with our commitment to the rule of law, we must ensure that full weight is accorded to separation-of-powers concerns moving forward.”

The announcement came as John C. Demers, the Trump administration holdover official who leads the Justice Department’s National Security Division, which oversees leak investigations, told his staff that he will step down at the end of next week. The Senate has not yet confirmed President Biden’s nominee for the position, Matthew G. Olsen.

On Sunday, several Democratic lawmakers had called for Mr. Demers to testify about the subpoena, along with the former deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein and the former attorneys general Jeff Sessions and William P. Barr.

Mr. Garland’s announcement also came as he was preparing to meet Monday afternoon with leaders of three major news organizations — The New York Times, CNN and The Washington Post — following the disclosure that the Trump Justice Department had secretly seized phone records for reporters at each of them.

Mr. Biden has since directed the Justice Department not to seize reporters’ communications records in hunts for their sources in leak investigations, calling that practice “simply, simply wrong,” and Mr. Garland is developing a new policy to carry out that instruction.

The leaders of two of those organizations — The Times and CNN — were also subjected to gag orders in related legal fights for reporters’ email data that spilled over into the Biden administration. Leaders of The Times were told in March about a two-month-old court order to Google, which runs the paper’s email system, for reporter data — but were also forbidden to talk about it.

The meeting is set for 4 p.m. and is expected to last about an hour. The news executives — which include the publisher of The Times, A.G. Sulzberger, and a Times newsroom lawyer, David McCraw, who were among those gagged in March — are expected to raise concerns about the investigative steps affecting reporters, and to discuss the details of the new policy Mr. Garland is working on.

In testimony last week, Mr. Garland said the new policy will be “the most protective of journalists’ ability to do their jobs in history.” But many details remain unresolved, including how broadly the new protections will apply and whether he will implement it via a method that is easy or difficult for a future administration to roll back.

A bipartisan group of 10 senators met last week to discuss a framework for an infrastructure package.
Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Democratic lawmakers begin the week with a fundamental choice on infrastructure: They can go big, or they can go bipartisan.

Their party holds slim majorities in the House and Senate, meaning each path risks losing key votes needed to pass a wide-ranging overhaul of the nation’s roads and bridges that President Biden considers one of his top priorities.

Democrats could also pursue a third strategy: Pass a smaller bill with a bipartisan vote and then pursue additional infrastructure measures through the use of budget reconciliation with only votes from Democrats.

Supporters of the president’s plan and the bipartisan proposal took to Sunday news programs to make their cases.

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine and one of the key negotiators of a bipartisan proposal, made the pitch for her group’s plan on CBS’s “Face The Nation.”

“We have five Republicans and five Democrats who got together to hammer out the framework for a targeted, responsible infrastructure package,” she said.

A bipartisan group that included Ms. Collins announced Thursday that they had reached an agreement that would be fully paid for. The group is pushing for a proposal that is much smaller than the $1.9 trillion package that Mr. Biden has proposed. That plan does not have the support of the majority of Republicans in the Senate, and it risks losing votes from liberal Democrats if it does not include items to address climate change.

The framework that the group agreed on is expected to include about $579 billion in new spending as part of an overall package that would cost about $974 billion over five years and about $1.2 trillion over eight years, according to two people familiar with the details, who disclosed them on the condition of anonymity.

Ms. Collins pledged that there would not be an increase to the gas tax or any changes to the Trump-era tax overhaul in her group’s plan. She also said the package would not include money for child care or elder care, two of Mr. Biden’s priorities.

The bipartisan group plans to pay for their proposal using three methods: an infrastructure financing authority, similar to how some state governments pay for sewer and water projects; repurposing unspent money from a previous stimulus package; and a tax on electric vehicles.

“Right now, they are literally free riders because they’re not paying any gas tax,” Ms. Collins said.

Mr. Biden sees talks with Republicans as key to passing an infrastructure package; centrist Senate Democrats have been resistant to immediately bypassing Republicans through the budget procedure known as reconciliation, which requires a majority vote instead of the 60 votes needed to overcome the Senate’s legislative filibuster.

But liberal Democrats have pledged not to vote for any proposal that does not address climate change and panned the bipartisan group’s proposal after Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, told reporters it would not include some of those priorities.

“No climate, no deal,” Senator Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, said flatly last week.

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York said a small plan that did not address climate change was unlikely to win progressive votes.

“Do we settle for much less and an infrastructure package that has been largely designed by Republicans in order to get 60 votes, or can we really transform this country, create millions of union jobs, revamp our power grid, get people’s bridges fixed and schools rebuilt with 51 or 50 Democratic votes?” said Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat. “The argument that we need to make here is it’s worth going it alone if we can do more for working people in this country.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said on CNN that it was important for Mr. Biden to explore negotiations with Republicans, but Democrats would have to forge ahead if a bipartisan deal could not be reached.

“We have a responsibility to find common ground,” she said. “But if we can’t, we have to stand our ground.”

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, has said he plans to move forward with an infrastructure package, one way or another, in July.

John Demers was the longest-serving Senate-confirmed official from the Trump administration to remain at the Justice Department during the Biden presidency.
Pool photo by Andrew Harnik

John Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, is expected to step down at the end of next week, according to a person familiar with the matter, a departure that was arranged months ago but now comes amid widespread backlash over investigations into leaks of classified information that began under the Trump administration.

Mr. Demers was the longest-serving Senate-confirmed official from the Trump administration to remain at the Justice Department during the Biden presidency.

John Carlin, the second in command in the deputy attorney general’s office, had asked Mr. Demers in April to remain at the department, according to the person. Lisa O. Monaco had just been confirmed to serve as the deputy attorney general, and the three officials had a long history of working together on sensitive national security cases.

Mr. Demers asked to leave by summer, and the two men eventually agreed that he would stay on through June 25, the person said.

Mr. Demers’s departure also comes as Democrats and First Amendment advocates have attacked the Justice Department following revelations that prosecutors supervised by Mr. Demers seized the records of reporters from The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN and of top House Democrats while investigating leaks of classified information. The department’s inspector general announced an investigation on Friday into the matter.

When Mr. Demers became the head of the National Security Division on Feb. 22, 2018, he was praised by both Democrats and Republicans, who noted that he had worked under administrations of both parties.

The confirmation is his third stint at the department. From 2006, when the National Security Division was created, to 2009, Mr. Demers was part of its leadership team. He had previously worked in the department’s Office of Legal Counsel, essentially the government’s lead legal adviser, and in the office of the deputy attorney general.

As the head of the National Security Division, he will likely best be known for his work to combat the threat of Chinese intellectual property theft and espionage.

The disclosure about Donald F. McGahn II, President Donald J. Trump’s White House counsel, adds to a series of recent revelations about tactics by the Trump Justice Department to secretly seize communications-related data.
Doug Mills/The New York Times

The Justice Department subpoenaed Apple for information in February 2018 about an account that belonged to Donald F. McGahn II, President Donald J. Trump’s White House counsel at the time, and barred the company from telling him about it, according to two people briefed on the matter.

Apple told Mr. McGahn about the subpoena last month, said one of the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter. Mr. McGahn’s wife also received a similar notice from Apple, the person said.

It is not clear what F.B.I. agents were investigating, whether Mr. McGahn was their specific focus or whether he was swept up in a larger net because he had communicated with someone who was under scrutiny. As the top lawyer for the 2016 Trump campaign and then the White House counsel, Mr. McGahn was in contact with numerous people who may have drawn attention either as part of the Russia investigation or a later leak inquiry.

Still, the disclosure that agents had collected data of a sitting White House counsel, which they kept secret for years, is extraordinary.

And it comes amid a political backlash after revelations that the Trump administration secretly seized the personal data of reporters and Democrats in Congress from phone and tech companies while investigating leaks.

Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill on Sunday ratcheted up pressure on the Justice Department and former officials to provide a fuller accounting of events. They called on the head of the Justice Department’s national security division, John C. Demers, and the former deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, to testify before Congress along with the former attorneys general Jeff Sessions and William P. Barr.

Apple told Mr. McGahn that it had complied with the subpoena in a timely fashion but declined to tell him what it had provided the government, according to a person briefed on the matter. Under Justice Department policy, gag orders for subpoenas may be renewed for up to a year at a time, suggesting that prosecutors went to court several times to prevent Apple from notifying the McGahns earlier.

In investigations, agents sometimes compile a large list of phone numbers and email addresses that were in contact with a subject, and seek to identify all those people by using subpoenas to communications companies for any account information like names, computer addresses and credit card numbers associated with them.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment, as did a lawyer for Mr. McGahn. An Apple representative did not respond to a request for comment.

Katie Benner, Adam Goldman and Luke Broadwater contributed reporting.

Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of Republican leadership, said the passions of Republican voters today matched those of Democratic voters after Donald J. Trump’s victory.
Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Senator Christopher S. Murphy concedes that political rhetoric in the nation’s capital can sometimes stray into hysteria, but when it comes to the precarious state of American democracy, he insisted he was not exaggerating the nation’s tilt toward authoritarianism.

“Democrats are always at risk of being hyperbolic,” said Mr. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut. “I don’t think there’s a risk when it comes to the current state of democratic norms.”

After the norm-shattering presidency of Donald J. Trump, the violence-inducing bombast over a stolen election, the pressuring of state vote counters, the Capitol riot and the flood of voter curtailment laws rapidly being enacted in Republican-run states, Washington has found itself in an anguished state.

Almost daily, Democrats warn that Republicans are pursuing racist, Jim Crow-inspired voter suppression efforts to disenfranchise tens of millions of citizens, mainly people of color, in a cynical effort to grab power. Metal detectors sit outside the House chamber to prevent lawmakers — particularly Republicans who have boasted of their intention to carry guns everywhere — from bringing weaponry to the floor. Democrats regard their Republican colleagues with suspicion, believing that some of them collaborated with the rioters on Jan. 6.

Republican lawmakers have systematically downplayed or dismissed the dangers, with some breezing over the attack on the Capitol as a largely peaceful protest, and many saying the state voting law changes are to restore “integrity” to the process, even as they give credence to Mr. Trump’s false claims of rampant fraud in the 2020 election.

They shrug off Democrats’ warnings of grave danger as the overheated language of politics as usual.

For Democrats, the evidence of looming catastrophe mounts daily. Fourteen states, including politically competitive ones like Florida and Georgia, have enacted 22 laws to curtail early and mail-in ballots, limit polling places and empower partisans to police polling, then oversee the vote tally. Others are likely to follow, including Texas, with its huge share of House seats and electoral votes.

Because Republicans control the legislatures of many states where the 2020 census will force redistricting, the party is already in a strong position to erase the Democrats’ razor-thin majority in the House. Even moderate voting-law changes could bolster Republicans’ chances for the net gain of one vote they need to take back the Senate.

And in the nightmare outcome promulgated by some academics, Republicans have put themselves in a position to dictate the outcome of the 2024 presidential election if the voting is close in swing states.

“Statutory changes in large key electoral battleground states are dangerously politicizing the process of electoral administration, with Republican-controlled legislatures giving themselves the power to override electoral outcomes on unproven allegations,” 188 scholars said in a statement expressing concern about the erosion of democracy.

Republicans contend that much of this is overblown, though some concede the charges sting. Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, said Democrats were playing a hateful race card to promote voting-rights legislation that is so extreme it would cement Democratic control of Congress for decades.

“I hope that damage isn’t being done,” he added, “but it is always very dangerous to falsely play the race card and let’s face it, that’s what’s being done here.”

President Biden met with NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, at the summit in Brussels on Monday.
Pool photo by Kenzo Tribouillard

BRUSSELS — New United States presidents traditionally get an early, brief NATO summit meeting, as President Biden is on Monday in a session lasting less than three hours.

Few involved with NATO can forget the last time a new American president paid an inaugural visit. It was May 2017, and Donald J. Trump took the opportunity to deride the new $1.2 billion headquarters building as too expensive, and refused, despite the assurances of his aides, to support NATO’s central tenet of collective defense, the famous Article 5 of the founding treaty.

Mr. Biden, by contrast, is a longstanding fan of NATO and of the trans-Atlantic alliance it defends, so simply showing up with a smile and warm compliments for allies will go a long way to making his first NATO summit as president smooth and even unmemorable.

He drove that point home upon arriving at the summit on Monday morning in a brief greeting with Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general — saying that the alliance was “critically important for U.S. interests” and pointing to Article 5 as a “sacred obligation.”

“There is a growing recognition over the last couple years that we have new challenges,” Mr. Biden said. “We have Russia, which is acting in a way that is not consistent with what we had hoped, and we have China.”

NATO also wants to show that it is not nearing “brain death,” as President Emmanuel Macron of France once complained, but instead preparing to adapt for a very different future.

The traditional communiqué is traditionally long — it is now 79 paragraphs — and was finished early Saturday evening.

There will be other issues for the leaders to discuss, even in a short meeting that is to provide each leader only five minutes to speak.

NATO is leaving Afghanistan pretty abruptly, after Mr. Biden’s decision to pull all United States troops out by Sept. 11. Many of NATO’s troops have already left. One of the main questions that remain: Can NATO continue to train Afghan special forces outside Afghanistan, and where?

Leaders will also talk about how to better prepare NATO’s “resilience,” including how to reduce dependence on Chinese-made technology, protect satellites and measure increased military spending. They want a new relationship with technology companies and new NATO partnerships in Asia.

They will begin to discuss a replacement for the secretary general, Mr. Stoltenberg, who worked hard to keep Mr. Trump from blowing up the alliance, and whose term ends in September 2022.

But for Mr. Biden, the meeting will be a bath of good feeling — and that is thought to be enough for now.

A U.S. official said that a solo news conference by President Biden would be “the appropriate format to clearly communicate with the free press” after meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
Doug Mills/The New York Times

After President Biden meets his Russian counterpart on Wednesday, the two men will not face the news media at a joint news conference, United States officials say.

Instead, Mr. Biden will face reporters by himself after two private sessions with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, a move intended to deny the Russian leader an international platform like the one he received during a 2018 summit in Helsinki, Finland, with President Donald J. Trump.

“We expect this meeting to be candid and straightforward, and a solo press conference is the appropriate format to clearly communicate with the free press the topics that were raised in the meeting,” a U.S. official said in a statement sent to reporters this weekend, “both in terms of areas where we may agree and in areas where we have significant concerns.”

Top aides to Mr. Biden said that during negotiations over the meetings, to be held at an 18th-century Swiss villa on the shores of Lake Geneva, the Russian government was eager to have Mr. Putin join Mr. Biden in a news conference. But Biden administration officials said that they were mindful of how Mr. Putin seemed to get the better of Mr. Trump in Helsinki.

At that news conference, Mr. Trump publicly accepted Mr. Putin’s assurances that his government did not interfere with the 2016 election, taking the Russian president’s word rather than the assessments of his own intelligence officials.

The spectacle in 2018 drew sharp condemnations from across the political spectrum for providing an opportunity for Mr. Putin to spread falsehoods. Senator John McCain at the time called it “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”

Mr. Putin has had a long and contentious relationship with United States presidents, who have sought to maintain relations with Russia even as the two nations clashed over nuclear weapons, aggression toward Ukraine and, more recently, cyberattacks and hacking.

President Barack Obama met several times with Mr. Putin, including at a joint appearance during the 2013 Group of 8 summit in Northern Ireland. Mr. Obama came under criticism at the time from rights groups for giving Mr. Putin a platform and for not challenging the Russian president more directly on human rights.

In the summer of 2001 — before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — President George W. Bush held a joint news conference with Mr. Putin at a summit in Slovenia. At the news conference, Mr. Bush famously said: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul.”

At the time, then-Senator Biden said: “I don’t trust Mr. Putin; hopefully the president was being stylistic rather than substantive.”

Biden administration officials said on Saturday that the two countries were continuing to finalize the format for the meeting on Wednesday with Mr. Putin. They said that the current plan called for a working session involving top aides in addition to the two leaders, and a smaller session.

Video player loading
After the Group of 7 summit ended in England on Sunday, President Biden told reporters that global initiatives, like infrastructure investments, by G7 countries would promote democratic values and offset China’s growing influence.Doug Mills/The New York Times

As the leaders of the world’s wealthiest nations wrapped up their first in-person summit since the outbreak of the pandemic, they released a joint communiqué on Sunday, underscoring areas of solidarity — and the differences that remain — when it comes to tackling a host of global crises.

The group, including President Biden, did not reach agreement on a timeline to eliminate the use of coal for generating electric power, a failure that climate activists said was a deep disappointment ahead of a global climate conference later this year.

The leaders sought to present a united front even as it remained to be seen how the plans would be executed.

The agreement represented a dramatic return of America’s postwar international diplomacy, and Mr. Biden said it was evidence of the strength of the world’s democracies in tackling hard problems.

Speaking to reporters after the summit, Mr. Biden said the leaders’ endorsement of a global minimum tax would help ensure global equity and a proposal to finance infrastructure projects in the developing world would counter the influence of China, providing what he said was a “democratic alternative.”

Those initiatives, he said, would promote democratic values and not an “autocratic lack of values.”

“Everyone at the table understood and understands both the seriousness and the challenges that we are up against and the responsibility of our proud democracies to step up and deliver to the rest of the world,” Mr. Biden said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, who hosted the summit, said that the gathering was an opportunity to demonstrate “the benefits of democracy.”

That would start, he said, with agreements to speed up the effort to vaccinate the world, which he called “the greatest feat in medical history.”

Asked about the failure to go further on climate policy by setting firm timelines, Mr. Johnson said that the general criticism was misplaced and failed to take into account the full scope of what was achieved during the summit.

“I think it has been a highly productive few days,” he said.

Mr. Biden hoped to use his first trip abroad to show that democracy, as a system of government, remained capable of addressing the world’s most pressing challenges.

The communiqué issued on Sunday fleshed out some of the proposals that have dominated the summit and was explicit in the need to counter the rise of China.

“Three years ago, China wasn’t even mentioned in the G7 communiqué,” according to an administration official who briefed reporters on its contents. “This year, there is a section on China that speaks to the importance of coordinating on and responding to China’s nonmarket economic practices and the need to speak out against human rights abuses, including in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.”

The communiqué promised “action against forced labor practices in the agricultural, solar, and garment sectors.”

It also noted the need for “supply chain resilience and technology standards so that democracies are aligned and supporting each other.”

At the same time, the nations agreed to an overhaul of international tax laws, unveiling a broad agreement that aims to stop large multinational companies from seeking out tax havens.

The administration official called it a “historic endorsement to end the race to the bottom in corporate taxation with a global minimum tax that will help fund domestic renewal and grow the middle class.”

But for all the good will and declarations of unity, there were questions about how the proposals would be translated into real-world action.

For instance, on the tax laws, a number of hurdles have yet to be overcome.

The biggest obstacle to getting a deal finished could come from the United States. The Biden administration must win approval from a narrowly divided Congress to make changes to the tax code, and Republicans have shown resistance to Mr. Biden’s plans.

Consumers expect higher inflation in the near-term and over the course of several years, a Federal Reserve Bank of New York survey found, a small but potentially important signal at a time when economic policymakers are betting that expectations will remain in check as demand and prices rebound from depressed pandemic levels.

Expectations for inflation a year from now jumped by 0.6 percentage points in May, hitting a new series high of 4 percent, the Fed branch said on Monday. The Survey of Consumer Expectations has been running since 2013, so it tracks a period during which price gains have been relatively tame.

Consumers also expected faster price increases in three years, anticipating gains of 3.6 percent, up from 3.1 percent in the April survey.

Fed officials have worried for years that inflation expectations might be drifting too low, so they could see the survey’s findings as a positive development. The 3-year-ahead number is back at levels seen in 2013, before years of tepid price gains weighed down the outlook.

At the same time, the rebound has happened abruptly, and if it continues it could push expectations too high for comfort. When consumers expect higher prices, businesses may have an easier time charging more, creating a self-fulfilling situation that sends inflation higher.

Investors will have a timely opportunity to see how the Fed is interpreting the latest data, given that the central bank meets this week and is scheduled to release its latest monetary policy statement on Wednesday alongside fresh economic projections. Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, will hold a news conference following that announcement.

The move higher in inflation expectations comes at a time when people are showing increased confidence in the job market: Those surveyed put the probability that they will lose their job in the next year at the lowest on record in the series, and the probability of finding a job rose sharply.

The labor market is gradually healing from pandemic-inflicted damage and job openings are plentiful. As the economy reopens and demand surges, supply is racing to catch up — sending inflation higher. The Fed and the White House are trying to sift through temporary, pandemic-spurred jerks in the data to gauge how much help the economy needs as it heals from more than a year of social distancing and rolling business lockdowns.

There is some speculation that Gov. Ralph Northam, 61, could seek re-election in the future. A state law prevents governors from serving consecutive terms.
Christopher Smith for The New York Times

On a national level, Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia may forever be enshrined as the Democrat who defied calls to resign in the face of unquestionable racism — a photograph on his yearbook page that showed one man in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan costume. But among Black political leaders and elected officials in Virginia, he is set to leave office with another legacy: becoming the most racially progressive governor in the state’s history, whose focus on uplifting Black communities since the 2019 scandal will have a tangible and lasting effect.

Mr. Northam’s arc, from political pariah denounced by nearly every national Democrat to a popular incumbent with support from Black elected officials and even progressive activists, is a complex story of personal growth and political pressure, a testament to how crisis can also provide opportunity. However, it would not have been possible without the Black Virginians who rallied around him even as they stared down immense pressure to help force him from office — Black staff members who stayed in the administration, a Legislative Black Caucus that chose to focus on policy goals rather than resignation, and a Black activist community that quickly followed the lawmakers’ strategic lead.

The result is a reshaped Virginia. Since 2019, and aided by a Democratic sweep of both state legislative houses, the commonwealth has become the first state in the South to abolish the death penalty, allocated more than $300 million to the state’s financially struggling Black colleges, passed sweeping police reform measures, and created the country’s first state cabinet-level position for diversity, equity and inclusion.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here