Top Senate Democrats on Friday demanded former Attorney General William P. Barr and other Justice Department officials testify to the Justice Committee about their extraordinary decision to secretly seize data from the accounts of House Democrats and their aides while they search for leaks searched for secret information.
New York Senator Chuck Schumer, majority leader, and Illinois Senator Richard J. Durbin, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said they were ready to summon Mr. Barr, former Attorney General Jeff Session, and others to testify if necessary. They also announced that they would “vigorously investigate” the department’s actions and urged Republicans to join them in the investigation.
“This issue shouldn’t be biased; According to the Constitution, Congress is an equal branch of government and must be protected from an overwhelming executive, and we expect our Republican colleagues to get to the bottom of this serious matter with us, ”Schumer and Durbin said in a statement to Mr.
Their demands came as Democrats in both houses denounced the seizures and aggressive investigative tactics, first reported by the New York Times Thursday, as gross abuse of power against another branch of government. They said the search for information on some of President Donald J. Trump’s most visible political opponents in Congress smelled like dangerous politicization.
So far, no prominent Republicans have joined the Democrats calling for an investigation, which could make it difficult to establish the facts. The attempt by Mr Schumer and Mr Durbin to put pressure on them to stand up for the prerogatives of Congress reflects the fact that the Democrats would need at least some support from the Republicans to issue subpoenas or in an evenly divided manner Senate to force testimony.
The Times reported that in finding the source of leaks about Trump employees and Russia, the Justice Department had used grand jury summons to force Apple and another service provider to hand over data tied to at least a dozen people, those associated with the House Intelligence Committee as of 2017 and 2018. The department then secured a gag order to keep it secret.
Although leak investigations are routine, current and former Justice Department and Congress officials said the seizure of data on lawmakers is almost unknown outside of corruption investigations. The Times also reported that after an initial round of investigation found no evidence linking the Intelligence Committee to the leaks, Mr. Barr objected to the investigation’s completion and helped revive it.
Investigators were given access to the files of Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the committee and now its chairman; Representative Eric Swalwell of California; Committee staff; and family members, including a minor.
“I hope any prosecutor who was involved will be kicked out of the department,” Swalwell said in an interview Friday. “It crosses the line of what we do in this country.”
“We need to find out what and how it happened to see how much the DOJ has abused its powers under Trump for political purposes,” he continued. “I think it was absolutely a frontal attack on the independence of an equal government.”
Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and a member of the Intelligence Committee who was a leading critic of state surveillance, said he plans to introduce laws to try to crack down on the use of gag orders such as those used by Apple and news organizations. which were also scrutinized during the leakage investigation.
“Revelations about the Trump Department of Justice’s attacks on journalists and political rivals prove once again how surveillance powers can be abused and the need to strictly restrict gag orders that prevent the targets of this espionage from knowing about it for years,” said Wyden in a statement.