Barr also said that while he was attorney general, he was “not aware of any congressman’s records being sought in a leak case.” He also said Trump never encouraged him to target the Democratic lawmakers in this case.
“He was not aware of who we were looking at in any of the cases,” he said. “I never discussed the leak cases with Trump. He didn’t really ask me any of the specifics.”
According to the Times, the leak investigation swept up the metadata of the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who has since become its chairman, and Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, another prominent Trump critic who sits on the panel.
Democratic congressional leaders are already vowing to investigate the Trump Justice Department’s efforts to seize their communications records. And Barr’s comments are unlikely to quell their criticisms of his leadership at the department.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin on Friday called for Barr and Sessions to appear before the Judiciary panel to answer questions about the secret efforts to subpoena the communications metadata.
“This appalling politicization of the Department of Justice by Donald Trump and his sycophants must be investigated immediately by both the DOJ Inspector General and Congress,” Schumer and Durbin, the top two Democrats in the upper chamber, said in a joint statement, adding that the Judiciary Committee “will vigorously investigate this abuse of power.”
While Democrats control the panel, a subpoena would require the support of at least one GOP member because the committee is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.
Barr said he installed Osmar Benvenuto in DOJ’s National Security Division in February 2020 to try to revive the leak investigations after Craig Carpenito, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, recommended him to Barr as “a very experienced prosecutor [who] could quickly sort out which of any of these cases merited further investigative steps and what could be done to bring them to resolution.”
“I was getting criticized by Cabinet members and members of the Intelligence Community about the department not having done anything on these leak cases so I wanted to make sure they were being pursued,” Barr said.
When the subpoenas reportedly went out, Rod Rosenstein was the deputy attorney general. John Demers became the head of DOJ’s National Security Division, which handles leak probes, in February of 2018. Rosenstein has since left the department for private practice; Demers is still heading the National Security Division.
Mary McCord, a career attorney, headed the National Security Division before Demers’ Senate confirmation.
“All I can say is that any investigation involving an elected official would be considered a sensitive matter that would need high-level approval at the department,” she told POLITICO when reached for comment.
Both Schiff and Swalwell have been among Trump’s most vocal critics, and the former president frequently went after them on Twitter.
Trump himself tweeted repeatedly that he believed Schiff was breaking the law by leaking classified material. The president’s missives would have presented major challenges for any prosecutor trying to bring charges against the lawmakers.
“Congressman Adam Schiff, who spent two years knowingly and unlawfully lying and leaking, should be forced to resign from Congress!” he tweeted on March 28, 2019. Twitter has since removed Trump’s account, and his tweets are archived separately.