Senate on collision course over Trump DOJ subpoenas


Senate Democrats are quickly running into a GOP buzzsaw as they probe the Trump-era Justice Department’s collection of lawmaker records.

Reports that the Department of Justice (DOJ) under former President TrumpSenate on collision course over Trump DOJ subpoenasDonald TrumpKushner lands book deal, slated for release in 2022 Biden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal Progressives rave over Harrison's start at DNC MORE obtained lawmaker communications data, and similar info on former White House Counsel Don McGahn, have sparked a days-long fury that’s sent Attorney General Merrick GarlandSenate on collision course over Trump DOJ subpoenasMerrick GarlandThe Memo: Homegrown extremism won't be easily tamed Why the Biden administration must protect the press — even when it exposes government secrets  The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden readies for Putin meeting MORE scrambling to contain the fallout.

As part of the fierce backlash from Capitol Hill, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee launched a probe this week and are threatening to subpoena former Attorneys General William BarrSenate on collision course over Trump DOJ subpoenasBill BarrTrump, allies pressured DOJ to back election claims, documents show House Judiciary to probe DOJ's seizure of data from lawmakers, journalists Judge temporarily blocks release of Trump obstruction memo MORE and Jeff SessionsSenate on collision course over Trump DOJ subpoenasJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHouse Judiciary to probe DOJ's seizure of data from lawmakers, journalists Senate Judiciary begins investigation into DOJ lawmaker subpoenas NSA leaker Reality Winner released from federal prison MORE if they don’t testify voluntarily.

But that effort faces a significant GOP roadblock since Republicans on the Judiciary Committee will need to back any effort to compel documents or testimony from potential witnesses.

The hurdle for Democrats spins out of their narrow 50-50 majority, which determines the party breakdown on Senate panels.

Approving a subpoena would require either a deal between Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick DurbinSenate on collision course over Trump DOJ subpoenasDick DurbinHarris calls for pathway to citizenship for Dreamers on DACA anniversary The Hill's Morning Report - Biden on Putin: 'a worthy adversary' McConnell sparks new Supreme Court fight MORE (D-Ill.) and Sen. Chuck GrassleySenate on collision course over Trump DOJ subpoenasChuck GrassleyOn The Money: Schumer to trigger reconciliation process on Wednesday | Four states emerge as test case for cutting off jobless benefits McConnell presses for 'actual consequences' in disclosure of tax data First major Democrat announces 2022 bid for Iowa governor MORE (Iowa), the top Republican, or winning over one of the 11 GOP senators on the panel to side with all Democrats to create a majority.

But top Republicans are pouring cold water on the Democratic investigation, underscoring the heavy lift Durbin and members of his caucus face to get bipartisan support to add teeth to the investigation.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellSenate on collision course over Trump DOJ subpoenasAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Schumer to trigger reconciliation process on Wednesday | Four states emerge as test case for cutting off jobless benefits GOP senator: I want to make Biden a 'one-half-term president' McConnell presses for 'actual consequences' in disclosure of tax data MORE (R-Ky.) called a pledge by House and Senate Democrats to investigate a “witch hunt in the making.”

“It’s particularly disappointing that our colleagues have taken to attacking former Attorney General Bill Barr over investigative decisions that predated his time at the Department of Justice. Attorney General Barr served our nation with honor and integrity,” McConnell said.

“These latest attempts to tarnish his name bear the telltale signs of a witch hunt in the making,” he added.

Republicans, in part, argue that a congressional probe is unnecessary as the Justice Department Office of the Inspector General starts up its own investigation into the agency’s decisions in 2017 and 2018 to issue subpoenas seeking metadata from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffSenate on collision course over Trump DOJ subpoenasAdam Bennett SchiffLawmakers urge Biden to be tough on cybersecurity during summit with Putin GOP's Stefanik defends Trump DOJ secret subpoenas The Hill's Morning Report - Biden on Putin: 'a worthy adversary' MORE (D-Calif.) and committee member Rep. Eric SwalwellSenate on collision course over Trump DOJ subpoenasEric Michael SwalwellDemocrats weigh next steps on Jan. 6 probe GOP's Stefanik defends Trump DOJ secret subpoenas The Hill's Morning Report - Biden on Putin: 'a worthy adversary' MORE (D-Calif.) during leak investigations.

McConnell, explaining his opposition to any congressional probes, pointed back to the Justice Department’s own actions.

“Here are the facts: The Department of Justice is empowered to investigate criminal conduct by Members of Congress and their staff,” McConnell said. “And the Department’s Inspector General is fully equipped to determine whether those procedures were followed in this case. … There is no need for a partisan circus here in Congress.”

On the Judiciary Committee, no Republicans have publicly backed subpoenaing either Barr or Sessions.

Grassley appeared more frustrated with the leaking of classified information, which he accused House Democrats of doing for years. The collection of lawmaker records, as well as those of reporters from prominent publications, appears tied to Trump-era investigations into congressional leaks from early in his presidency. 

“I think we’ve got a double standard here,” Grassley said, asked if he would support a subpoena. “Why should I support a double standard?”

Other Republicans were quick to note that Barr has distanced himself from the subpoenas of two House lawmakers’ records, appearing to question what information he or Sessions would be able to provide.

“These are subpoenas that I think are issued well below their level,” said Sen. Lindsey GrahamSenate on collision course over Trump DOJ subpoenasLindsey Olin GrahamProgressives rave over Harrison's start at DNC Senate confirms Garland's successor to appeals court Progressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema MORE (R-S.C.), a member of the committee.

Sen. John CornynSenate on collision course over Trump DOJ subpoenasJohn CornynSenate passes bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday Harris calls for pathway to citizenship for Dreamers on DACA anniversary Senate confirms Garland's successor to appeals court MORE (R-Texas), another member of the panel, added: “I saw where he said he didn’t know anything about [it].”

“I’m sure he’ll come without a subpoena, but if Sen. Durbin wants to make a show of it,” Cornyn said.

Judiciary Democrats sent Garland a letter this week formally announcing their investigation and asking for documents related to the subpoenas related to Schiff and Swalwell.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee will vigorously investigate this apparent effort to weaponize DOJ against Trump’s perceived political enemies,” they vowed. 

Durbin acknowledged that he’ll need GOP support to move forward but declined to say what his next steps are.

“You know what the rules are when it comes to Senate subpoenas,” Durbin said. 

Democrats have other options if they hit roadblocks in the Judiciary Committee. The House Judiciary Committee is vowing to move forward with its own investigation. 

“The House Judiciary Committee will investigate the Trump Administration’s surveillance of Members of Congress, the news media, and others. I have instructed my staff to begin that work without delay,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry NadlerSenate on collision course over Trump DOJ subpoenasJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerBlack Democrats press leaders for reparations vote this month House Judiciary to probe DOJ's seizure of data from lawmakers, journalists Outrage grows as Justice seeks to contain subpoena fallout MORE (D-N.Y.) announced this week.

Unlike their Senate counterpart, they wouldn’t need GOP support to pursue their own high-profile investigation.

“I’m counting on the House to do their part, and I expect more information from all of this from our new attorney general,” Sen. Mazie HironoSenate on collision course over Trump DOJ subpoenasMazie Keiko HironoDemocrats mull overhaul of sweeping election bill White House gets back to pre-COVID-19 normality Biden signs anti-Asian hate crimes bill into law MORE (D-Hawaii), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said about how Democrats could investigate the records collection. 

Hirono appeared skeptical that either Barr or Sessions would testify voluntarily before the Senate. When asked if she thought her GOP colleagues would vote to subpoena either of Trump’s attorneys general, she responded: “I don’t think so.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee could provide another avenue for Democrats to go after Barr and Sessions, but the committee’s leaders are staying on the sidelines for now.

“At this point it’s been mostly Judiciary. I have not had a chance to talk to my committee. ... So far, I’m counting on Judiciary,” said Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark WarnerSenate on collision course over Trump DOJ subpoenasMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC | Lawmakers urge Biden to be tough on cyber during summit with Putin | TSA working on additional security regulations following Colonial Pipeline hack Lawmakers urge Biden to be tough on cybersecurity during summit with Putin How Biden can get the infrastructure bill through Congress MORE (D-Va.).

Asked if Durbin being unable to get a subpoena would impact his thinking, Warner added: “Let’s not jump ahead.”

“Peace in the valley might break out,” Warner said, “and suddenly Judiciary becomes functional.”