WASHINGTON (AP) – Senate Democratic leaders are calling for Trump-era Attorney General Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions to testify about the secret House of Representatives seizure of Democratic data in 2018, calling it “shocking” and a “gross abuse of power.” “.
The Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer, and Illinois. Senator Dick Durbin said in a statement Friday that Barr and Sessions “must testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee” and are subject to subpoena if they refuse.
The demands came after Democratic MPs Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell were informed that the Justice Department under former President Donald Trump had seized their metadata from Apple three years ago as part of an aggressive crackdown on leaks related to the Russia investigation and other national security matters. This is what three people who are familiar with seizures say.
Schiff and Swalwell were serving on the House Intelligence Committee at the time – Schiff is now the chairman.
While the Department of Justice routinely investigates leaked information, including classified intelligence, the initiation of such an investigation against members of Congress is extremely rare. The revelations show that part of the government is using investigative and law enforcement powers to spy on another.
Schiff said the seizures point to the “arming of law enforcement by a corrupt president”.
Prosecutors from Trump’s Justice Department have summoned Apple over the data, said a committee official and two other people with inside knowledge. The records of at least 12 people connected to the intelligence panel were eventually shared by the company.
The committee official and the other two with knowledge of the data seizure were given anonymity to discuss.
Apple told the committee last month that the record was shared and the investigation closed, but did not provide full details. The files of helpers, former helpers and family members, one of whom was a minor, were also confiscated, the committee official said.
The Justice Department received metadata – likely recordings of calls, texts, and locations – but no other content from the devices such as photos, messages, or emails, according to one of the people. Another said Apple complied with the subpoena, submitted the information to the Justice Department, and did not immediately notify members of Congress or the committee of the disclosure.
The secret seizures were first reported by the New York Times.
The Trump administration’s attempt to secretly gain access to the data came when the president publicly and privately railed about investigations – in Congress and on then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller – into his campaign’s links with Russia.
Trump called the investigation a “witch hunt”, regularly criticized Democrats and Müller on Twitter and repeatedly dismissed leaks as “fake news” that would damage his agenda. As the investigation swirled around him, he demanded loyalty from a Department of Justice that he often viewed as his personal law firm.
Schiff and Swalwell were two of the most visible Democrats on the Republican-led committee during the Russia Inquiry. Both California lawmakers appeared frequently on cable news. Trump watched these channels closely, if not obsessively, and seething with the coverage.
Schiff issued a statement late Thursday calling for an investigation into the seizures by the Inspector General of the Justice Department.
House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said in a statement that the data seizure “appears to be another egregious attack on our democracy” by the former president.
“The news of the politicization of the Justice Department in the Trump administration is staggering,” she said.
The committee official said the panel had continued to ask for additional information, but the Justice Department had failed to comment on questions such as whether the investigation was correctly predicted or whether it focused only on Democrats.
It is unclear why Trump’s Justice Department targeted a minor as part of the investigation. Swalwell confirmed he was told his records had been confiscated and told CNN Thursday night that he was aware that a minor was involved and believed that that person was “targeted for punishment, not legal.” “.
On CNN Friday, Swalwell said he would “not be surprised” if the department followed up on other members. He said an internal Justice Department investigation could find out. The Senate Intelligence Committee had not been similarly attacked, according to a fourth person who knew about the investigation and provided anonymity to discuss it.
There is no evidence that the Justice Department used the records to prosecute anyone. After some of the information was released and made public in the later years of the Trump administration, some of the prosecutors were concerned that even if they could bring a leak case, it would be difficult and unlikely to be convicted, one of the people said.
Federal agents questioned at least one former committee employee in 2020, the person said, and prosecutors ultimately failed to substantiate a case.
The news follows revelations that the Department of Justice secretly seized phone records from reporters for the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN as part of a criminal leak investigation. After an outcry from press freedom organizations, the Justice Department announced last week that it would end the practice of gathering information from journalists.