Senate Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr (R-N.C.) issued a subpoena to Verizon Wireless Monday demanding private customer phone records from the phone company, according to a former executive familiar with the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity to talk about ongoing investigations.
The subpoena — which was sent to Verizon’s chief executive but not its parent company, Verizon Communications — appeared to be a linchpin of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible coordination with Russia.
It covers not just international phone calls but also incoming and outgoing domestic calls, and even the phone numbers used to make those calls, the former executive said. The volume of the data demanded is “unprecedented in scope,” the source said.
The subpoena is a significant escalation in the committee’s already expansive investigation of Russian election interference, which is looking at Russian spies and hackers as well as Trump associates, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn. If approved, the public release of the phone records could help detail contacts between Russians and members of the Trump campaign and government.
Verizon spokesman Bob Varettoni said the company “cannot confirm or deny the existence of a subpoena.” He declined to comment further.
The Senate committee will be filing paperwork with the federal courts asking for a warrant that would allow the committee to review the records in unclassified form. After the metadata is collected, it is generally unavailable to anyone without a court order. Such warrants are more commonly available for government surveillance of U.S. citizens than when foreigners are under investigation.
However, a judge may decide the warrant is not justified because of a First Amendment right to privacy, a legal principle known as “ex parte privilege.” If that occurs, the federal judge overseeing the investigation must enter a permission slip to allow the committee to review the records.
The possible breach in the House of Representatives appeared to be less extreme. Though C-SPAN only broadcast House hearings, some lawmakers monitored live. But the FBI did not release the seized phone records to other congressional investigators until after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) traveled to New York on Feb. 2 and handed the data over to the House Intelligence Committee.
One Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing investigations, said the phone records raided by the FBI were provided to the committee in spreadsheet form.
“In some cases, the number of contacts or the number of other people from whom they’re calling is public,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.). “It’s also very significant what [the information] is not included in the spreadsheet.”
Investigators are trying to find evidence of possible contact between Russian agents and a number of Trump associates and Trump campaign aides.
Flynn, the former national security adviser, was forced to resign in February after it was revealed that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States and that he also, according to reports, had been in touch with Russian intelligence officials. His former deputy, K.T. McFarland, was confirmed in May. On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that the Treasury Department had sent a subpoena to Verizon seeking information on Flynn, McFarland and other employees.
Associated Press Writers Jack Gillum and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.