Trump administration subpoenaed Apple as part of White House leaks investigation

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President Trump: Apple encryption could protect ‘criminal minds’
Trump and Apple had something of a mixed relationship.
Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr CC

When people talk about “Apple” and “leaks” in the same sentence, they’re usually referring to rumors about upcoming products. But the Justice Department of the Trump administration took the step of subpoenaing Apple in an effort to quell White House leaks during the Trump presidency.

Specifically, it sought to gain information from Apple regarding data from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, their aides, and family members — including one minor. The New York Times reports that the gag order on the subpoena only expired this year, allowing those investigated to know they had been under scrutiny.

The report notes that:

“All told, the records of at least a dozen people tied to the committee were seized in 2017 and early 2018, including those of Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, then the panel’s top Democrat and now its chairman, according to committee officials and two other people briefed on the inquiry. Representative Eric Swalwell of California said in an interview Thursday night that he had also been notified that his data had subpoenaed.

Prosecutors, under the beleaguered attorney general, Jeff Sessions, were hunting for the sources behind news media reports about contacts between Trump associates and Russia. Ultimately, the data and other evidence did not tie the committee to the leaks, and investigators debated whether they had hit a dead end and some even discussed closing the inquiry.”

Apple reportedly turned over metadata and account information. It did not provide photos, emails or other content, according to one of the sources who spoke with the NYT.

Apple and Trump

Apple “enjoyed” a mixed relationship with Donald Trump. While Trump was still on the campaign trail, he was a vocal critic of Apple’s refusal to unlock gunman Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone 5c after being requested to do so by the FBI. “Who do [Apple] think they are? They have to open it up,” Trump told Fox and Friends. Trump later suggested an Apple boycott. Apple employees overwhelmingly voted Democrat instead of Republican — just as they did with the recent Trump vs. Biden election.

However, when Trump was in power, he seemed to get on surprisingly well with Cook. As America’s biggest publicly traded company, Apple was obviously viewed as something of a jewel in terms of demonstrating American exceptionalism. Trump frequently praised Cook. He said he was one of the few business leaders who would pick up the phone to Trump when he had a problem. At one point, the two toured Apple’s Mac Pro factory in Austin, Texas. Trump consulted with Cook over how best to reopen the US economy during the pandemic.

Not everything was smooth sailing, of course. Cook and Trump clashed on Trump’s use of tariffs and his immigration policy. There was also that time in which Trump decided to offer pointed criticism of Apple’s iPhone UI.

This subpoena wasn’t personal against Apple, of course. But, nonetheless, for a privacy focused company it probably didn’t win Trump too many friends in Cupertino.

Source: New York Times