The comments come as Democratic congressional leaders demand the former attorney general testify about the leak probes.
Former Attorney General William Barr on Friday distanced himself from reports that the Trump Justice Department seized communications records belonging to two prominent Democratic lawmakers who were spearheading investigations into then-President Donald Trump.
In a phone interview, Barr said he didn’t recall getting briefed on the moves.
Barr’s comments came after The New York Times reported that in 2017 and 2018, the Justice Department seized the records of at least 12 people connected to the House Intelligence Committee, including its current chair. Barr became attorney general in 2019.
The Justice Department’s internal watchdog announced Friday it would open a review of the records seizures, and Democratic leaders are standing up their own probes. 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 chair, and Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, another prominent Trump critic who sits on the panel.
Barr said that while he was attorney general, he was “not aware of any congressman’s records being sought in a leak case.” He added that Trump never encouraged him to zero in on the Democratic lawmakers who reportedly became targets of the former president’s push to unmask leakers of classified information.
Trump “was not aware of who we were looking at in any of the cases,” Barr said. “I never discussed the leak cases with Trump. He didn’t really ask me any of the specifics.”
The Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, is launching a separate investigation. The department said on Friday that Horowitz’s review would center on “DOJ’s use of subpoenas and other legal authorities” to obtain records of lawmakers, journalists, and others associated with ongoing investigations into unauthorized leaks.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Friday called for Barr and his predecessor as attorney general, former Sen. Jeff Sessions, to appear before the Judiciary panel to answer questions about the secret efforts to subpoena Democrats’ communications metadata. The revelations about the Trump-era leak hunt have raised fresh questions about the former president’s use of his executive powers to monitor members of Congress who were investigating him.
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