Democrats demand Barr, Sessions testify on Apple data subpoenas

The top two Senate Democrats on Friday called for multiple investigations into the Department of Justice's (DOJ) decisions in 2017 and 2018 to issue subpoenas seeking metadata records of House Intelligence Committee members as the Trump administration pursued leak investigations.

Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck Schumer84 mayors call for immigration to be included in reconciliation Senate infrastructure talks on shaky grounds Could Andrew Cuomo — despite scandals — be re-elected because of Trump? MORE (N.Y.) and Judiciary Committee Chair Dick DurbinDick DurbinBiden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on Senators scramble to save infrastructure deal Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines MORE (Ill.) also called for two of former President TrumpDonald TrumpRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Jake Ellzey defeats Trump-backed candidate in Texas House runoff DOJ declines to back Mo Brooks's defense against Swalwell's Capitol riot lawsuit MORE’s attorneys general, William BarrBill BarrHighest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote Native Americans are targets of voter suppression too Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump MORE and Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Democrat stalls Biden's border nominee Garland strikes down Trump-era immigration court rule, empowering judges to pause cases MORE, to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"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. This is a gross abuse of power and an assault on the separation of powers,” Schumer and Durbin said in a joint statement Friday. “This appalling politicization of the Department of Justice by Donald Trump and his sycophants must be investigated immediately by both the DOJ Inspector General and Congress."

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“Former Attorneys General Barr and Sessions and other officials who were involved must testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee under oath. If they refuse, they are subject to being subpoenaed and compelled to testify under oath,” the Democratic leaders continued.

To carry out that threat, Democrats would need the support of at least one Republican given the committee's even split between the parties.

The DOJ's internal watchdog confirmed on Friday that it would investigate the subpoenas, as well as recently revealed ones initiated against reporters at multiple news outlets.

“The review will examine the Department’s compliance with applicable DOJ policies and procedures, and whether any such uses, or the investigations, were based upon improper considerations,” Michael Horowitz, DOJ’s inspector ceneral, said in a statement.

Early in Trump’s presidency, his Justice Department subpoenaed Apple for metadata for House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffOfficers offer harrowing accounts at first Jan. 6 committee hearing Live coverage: House panel holds first hearing on Jan. 6 probe Five things to watch as Jan. 6 panel begins its work MORE (D-Calif.) and Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellDOJ declines to back Mo Brooks's defense against Swalwell's Capitol riot lawsuit Tech executives increased political donations amid lobbying push Justice in legal knot in Mo Brooks, Trump case MORE (D-Calif.), two staunch critics of Trump, and their family members and fought to place a gag order on the company. The revelation was first reported by The New York Times.

So far, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse to resume mask mandate after new CDC guidance McCarthy pulls GOP picks off House economic panel GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE (D-Calif.) and other House Democratic leaders have not taken the same steps in calling for House committees to investigate Trump’s Justice Department officials. But House sources said there is significant interest in House panels, including the Judiciary Committee led by Chairman Jerry NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerBritney Spears's new attorney files motion to remove her dad as conservator Here's what Congress is reading at the beach this summer Activists see momentum as three new states legalize marijuana MORE (D-N.Y.), to launch investigations.

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It’s unclear whether the Intelligence Committee could start a probe, given that Schiff, Swalwell and committee aides their families were targets of the DOJ investigation into who was leaking information to news outlets about ties between Trump associates and Russia. 

On Capitol Hill and on cable TV, Schiff and Swalwell became some of Trump’s most vocal and visible political foes, particularly on the Russia story; Pelosi would later tap Schiff as lead prosecutor during Trump’s first Senate impeachment trial, while Swalwell served as a prosecutor during Trump’s second impeachment trial.

In statements Thursday night, both Schiff and Pelosi had called for Horowitz to investigate the actions of the former Trump officials.       

“Though we were informed by the Department in May that this investigation is closed, I believe more answers are needed, which is why I believe the Inspector General should investigate this and other cases that suggest the weaponization of law enforcement by a corrupt president,” Schiff said.

“Trump repeatedly demanded the DOJ go after his political enemies. It's clear his demands didn't fall on deaf ears,” he added on Twitter on Thursday night. 

Pelosi called the revelations that Trump’s Justice Department was targeting House Democrats "harrowing."

“These actions appear to be yet another egregious assault on our democracy waged by the former president,” Pelosi said Thursday, a nod to the DOJ issuing subpoenas to also target journalists and news outlets. 

“I support Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff’s call for an investigation into this situation and other acts of the weaponization of law enforcement by the former president. Transparency is essential,” she said.

The news of the subpoenas targeting lawmakers follows DOJ efforts in recent weeks to notify journalists at CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times that their records were also subpoenaed under investigations initiated under the Trump administration. 

The seizures were a deviation from a Justice Department policy that typically requires the agency to notify reporters as soon as their records are sought. 

But the Trump administration took advantage of a provision that allows the attorney general to delay notification if there is a “threat to the integrity of the investigation” or a risk of grave harm to national security or death.

In such cases, the DOJ is required to disclose that the records were obtained within 45 days, though the attorney general can extend that period for another 45 days.

While that time frame largely left the task to fall on the Biden administration, the DOJ continued to seek gag orders seeking to block communications companies from notifying the news outlets their records were being sought.

Even once the department relented and allowed the news to be shared with lawyers at CNN and the Times, it continued to fight for gag orders limiting counsel from informing the reporters their records had been seized.

Schiff and Swalwell’s notification that their records had been subpoenaed followed a similar pattern. They were not notified until May, when a gag order the DOJ sought for Apple had expired.

Though President BidenJoe BidenRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Iowa governor suggests immigrants partially to blame for rising COVID-19 cases Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on MORE had been sworn in, DOJ officials this year did not inform lawmakers that they were being investigated in the leak probe — a revelation that has infuriated some Democrats on Capitol Hill. 

“There is a lot of frustration at DOJ’s lack of forthcomingness here,” said one congressional Democratic source. “We’ve asked a series of questions of DOJ. They have not been forthcoming, and we hope that will change.”

Updated at 2:24 p.m.