House panel investigating the Trump DOJ’s secret seizure of data from Democrats could compel Barr and Sessions to testify under oath

Barr and Sessions
Attorney General William Barr, left, stands with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, right, following a farewell ceremony for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in the Great Hall at the Department of Justice in Washington, Thursday, May 9, 2019. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
  • The House Judiciary Committee plans to probe the seizure of Democrats’ data by the DoJ.
  • The orders targeted Democratic lawmakers, their families, and journalists.
  • Some Democrats have discussed requiring testimony from Trump-era AGs Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions.
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House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler announced that an investigation into the seizure of phone data from Democratic lawmakers by the Justice Department during the Trump administration.

One of the options before the panel is to compel testimony under oath from Trump-era Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr, both of whom have denied knowing about the data seizure.

The inquiry will also investigate the DoJ’s seizure of data from staffers working for the lawmakers, their family members, as well as journalists and others, said Nadler in a statement Monday.

“These cases are merely our first glimpse into a coordinated effort by the Trump Administration to target President Trump’s political opposition. If so, we must learn the full extent of this gross abuse of power, root out the individuals responsible, and hold those individuals accountable for their actions,” said Nadler.

The investigation comes after reports last week that the Justice Department has issued secret subpoenas in early 2018 for the phone records for Democratic lawmakers Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democratic member of the committee.

The records were seized from the congressmen – both adamant critics of President Donald Trump – as part of a probe into how information about the Russia investigation and other national security issues was leaked to the media.

It is not known if the seizure of phone data from journalists at outlets including The Washington Post and The New York Times was linked.

Jeff Sessions, who was attorney general when the subpoenas were issued (though recused from matters relating to the Russia probe) and his successor, Bill Barr, have both denied knowledge of the subpoenas. Rod Rosenstein, who served as deputy to Sessions and Barr, also denied knowledge.

But top Democrats have expressed skepticism about their denials, and the Nadler’s justice committee probe could request their testimony under oath. If they refuse the request, they could be subpoenaed as witnesses.

Under committee rules subpoenas can be issued for witnesses under a majority vote. The committee is currently controlled by Democrats, meaning that the step could be taken despite any objections from Republicans.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, a Democrat, separately said Friday that he would seek to subpoena Barr and Sessions as witnesses if they did not comply with a request to testify.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a CNN interview Sunday called for the men to testify before Congress about what they knew about the seizure of records to discover who authorized the order. Pelosi though declined to answer whether she thought they should be compelled to.

A separate investigation into the phone record seizures has been launched by Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz. However, he does not have the authority to compel testimony from witnesses no longer working at the DoJ.

On Monday John Demers, a Trump appointee in charge of the unit at the Justice Department that investigates leaks, announced he was resigning, according to reports.