Revelations that the Justice Department under former attorneys general Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions secretly subpoenaed data of at least two House Democrats in an effort to track leaks triggered demands from Congress for answers and an inspector general’s investigation.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin said Friday that Barr and Sessions must testify under oath about the subpoenas to obtain communications records metadata of Democratic lawmakers as well as some aides and family members.
Separately, a Justice Department official said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco has asked the department’s inspector general to investigate the actions, which were taken in an attempt to track down leaks that had led to news reports about former President Donald Trump’s circle and Russia.
“The revelation that the Trump Justice Department secretly subpoenaed metadata of House Intelligence Committee members and staff and their families, including a minor, is shocking,” Schumer and Durbin said in a joint statement. “This is a gross abuse of power and an assault on the separation of powers.”
The senators threatened to subpoena Barr and Sessions if they won’t appear voluntarily.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Thursday night that the Justice Department had secretly subpoenaed personal communications records of several people tied to his panel
Schiff, a California Democrat who enraged Trump with congressional investigations of his administration, released a statement after the New York Times reported that the department had seized his records and those of several other people. The Times reported that prosecutors subpoenaed metadata from Apple Inc. for accounts of at least two Democrats on the Intelligence panel, as well as aides and family members.
The Times said that the inquiry began when Sessions was attorney general and was revived under Barr.
Altogether, the paper said, records belonging to at least a dozen people, including Schiff, were seized in 2017 and 2018.
Schumer and Durbin called it an “appalling politicization” of the Justice Department and that the Judiciary Committee will demand answers from department.
“This issue should not be partisan,” they said. “Under the Constitution, Congress is a co-equal branch of government and must be protected from an overreaching executive, and we expect that our Republican colleagues will join us in getting to the bottom of this serious matter.”
Schiff, who did not mention in the statement whether his own records had been seized, said that while “we were informed by the department in May that this investigation is closed,” more answers were needed.
Lauren French, a spokeswoman for the Intelligence Committee, said Schiff became aware of the subpoenas in May, adding that he is unaware of whether he was a target of the investigation, but that the committee itself was.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a separate statement that she supports Schiff’s call for an investigation.
She called the news harrowing, and that “these actions appear to be yet another egregious assault on our democracy waged by the former president.”
A senior Intelligence Committee Democrat, Mike Quigley of Illinois, said in an interview that he had never been briefed about the Justice Department targeting of individuals associated with the committee – and was never aware of it.
But Quigley said he long “had expected that eventually, someone would attempt this I just wasn’t sure if it would be a hostile government or my own.”
“The stakes were so high,” said Quigley, referring to the committee’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. He accused Trump of repeatedly using the Justice Department for his own political ends.
The Times report reverberated across the Capitol. Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said “Donald Trump’s efforts to surveil Adam Schiff as part of a political vendetta is both a direct attack on the separation of powers and Congressional independence.”
The revelation of the subpoenas for of the lawmakers’ records follows reports by the New York Times, CNN and the Washington Post that the Trump Justice Department had seized or tried to seize phone and other records of their journalists.
Last weekend, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that “the issuing of subpoenas for the records of reporters in leak investigations is not consistent with the president’s policy direction to the department, and the Department of Justice has reconfirmed it will not be used moving forward.”
President Joe Biden told reporters on May 21 that it was “simply, simply wrong” for the Justice Department to obtain the telephone and email records of journalists, and “I will not let that happen.”
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