WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Top Senate Democrats on Friday demanded two former U.S. attorneys general testify about reported subpoenas of records of members of Congress by former President Donald Trump's Justice Department, while a White House official criticized the actions as "appalling."
Trump's Justice Department subpoenaed Apple Inc for data from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee in an attempt to find out who was behind leaks of classified information, the New York Times reported on Thursday.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Dick Durbin said Trump-era Attorneys General Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions should be subpoenaed if necessary to compel them to testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the secret seizure of data, calling it a “gross abuse of power."
“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," Schumer and Durbin said in a statement.
They added that the Judiciary Committee, which Durbin chairs, would "vigorously investigate this abuse of power," and that the Justice Department's inspector general should also investigate.The Justice Department's internal watchdog will probe the efforts, a department official said on Friday.
Kate Bedingfield, White House communications director, said the report illustrated the kind of abuse of power in the former administration that prompted Democratic President Joe Biden to run against Republican Trump.
"Obviously, the reports of the behavior of the attorney general under Donald Trump are appalling," she told CNN.
Biden has made a point of marking the independence of the Justice Department, saying it serves the people, not the president.
Democratic Representative Eric Swalwell, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said he had been spied on.
“In May, I was notified by Apple that my records were among those sought by — and turned over to — the Trump administration as part of a politically motivated investigation into his perceived enemies," Swalwell said in a statement.
The records of the committee's chairman, Representative Adam Schiff, were also sought, according to the Times. Schiff said in a statement Thursday that the Justice Department had informed the committee last month that the investigation was closed. He said the Justice Department's inspector general should investigate.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Jan Wolfe; Editing by Lisa Lambert and Jonathan Oatis)