By Siobhan Hughes and Sadie Gurman
WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) called for former attorneys general Jeff Sessions and William Barr to testify before Congress under oath.
The request followed revelations on Thursday that the Trump Justice Department secretly sought records from Apple Inc. related to communications by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee and their aides and relatives.
"If they refuse, they are subject to being subpoenaed and compelled to testify under oath," the two senators said in a statement. "In addition, the Justice Department must provide information and answers to the Judiciary Committee, which will vigorously investigate this abuse of power."
The senators also said that other officials who were involved must testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee under oath. "We expect that our Republican colleagues will join us in getting to the bottom of this serious matter," they said.
Apple in May notified individuals associated with the committee that the Justice Department had issued grand-jury subpoenas for their information in February 2018, a committee official said. The committee immediately contacted the Justice Department for clarification and additional information, the official said, adding that the department informed the committee last month that the matter had been closed.
At the time of the subpoenas, then-President Donald Trump and officials in his administration, including Mr. Sessions, were trying to locate the source of leaks about contacts between Russia and figures in Mr. Trump's 2016 election campaign. Mr. Trump's second attorney general, Mr. Barr, renewed the leak investigations after taking office in 2019, directing a federal prosecutor from New Jersey to work on about a half-dozen cases, according to a person familiar with the matter. The cases had languished under Mr. Barr's predecessors, and the prosecutor was directed to then brief top officials, a person familiar with the matter said.
On Friday Mr. Barr said he hadn't been aware of cases in which there were subpoenas related to lawmaker's communications. "I didn't recall that case," Mr. Barr said. "Whatever steps were taken, were taken before I arrived."
The Justice Department occasionally investigates and charges members of Congress in corruption investigations, but legal experts on national security issues said there is no precedent for investigating members for leaking national security information. Most rules governing the handling of classified information are established under a president's executive authority, and are not laws, and little precedent exists for whether members of Congress -- as officers of a co-equal branch of government -- must comply.
"To my knowledge, no member of Congress has ever been prosecuted for unauthorized disclosures of classified information," said Bradley Moss, a national security attorney in Washington.
"Any indictment would be fraught with constitutional implications," Mr. Moss said. "There'd be fights over separation of powers. There'd be fights over abuse of authority."
Members of Congress also have immunity from prosecution based on actions taken in their official capacity in Congress, under the U.S. Constitution. In 1971, then-Sen. Mike Gravel entered the highly-classified Pentagon Papers into the congressional record -- an action that sparked a federal grand jury investigation, but no charges were brought against the senator.
One Senate Republican would need to join Democrats in voting to issue a subpoena because of the 50-50, evenly divided chamber and Democrats don't have the power to unilaterally issue subpoenas. "I am somewhat doubtful that we would get a Republican, but it's a possibility -- I wouldn't rule it out," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The committee includes Sen. Ben Sasse (R., Neb.), who earlier this year voted to convict then-President Trump of inciting an insurrection on Jan. 6 and also voted to create a commission to investigate that day's attack on the Capitol, which blocked due to opposition by other Senate Republicans.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff have called for an investigation into the Justice Department's pursuit of the communications data, first reported by the New York Times. It reported that the records of at least a dozen people connected to the panel in 2017 and early 2018, including those of Mr. Schiff, were seized in the probe.
Reports of the subpoenas follow earlier revelations that the Justice Department under Mr. Barr subpoenaed the records of reporters at several news organizations including the Washington Post, the New York Times and CNN.
The Justice Department, which has said it would no longer seek records of reporters' contacts when investigating government leaks of sensitive information, declined to comment.
The House Intelligence Committee has continued to seek additional information from the Justice Department, the official said, adding that "DOJ has not been forthcoming in a timely manner, including on questions such as whether the investigation was properly predicated and whether it only targeted Democrats."
Byron Tau contributed to this article.
Write to Siobhan Hughes at email@example.com and Sadie Gurman at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires