Schiff claims 'immunity' in bid to keep impeachment phone subpoenas secret

Judicial Watch is seeking to obtain subpoenas the House Intel Committee issued during the impeachment inquiry to get Americans’ phone records.

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Rep. Adam Schiff on Feb. 17, 2020
Rep. Adam Schiff on Feb. 17, 2020
(Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)
Last Updated:
March 20, 2020 - 12:22am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The House Intelligence Committee and its chairman Adam Schiff invoked “sovereign immunity” in a motion to dismiss a Judicial Watch lawsuit seeking to obtain controversial phone records subpoenas issued during the Trump impeachment inquiry.

The committee’s subpoenas of phone records ultimately led to the publication of multiple Americans’ phone records, including those of reporter John Solomon, California Rep. Devin Nunes, the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others.

In the motion, lawyers from the Office of General Counsel for the House of Representatives assert four reasons for dismissing the case, including protection under the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause.

“First, the doctrine of sovereign immunity deprives the Court of jurisdiction over the House Defendants, and no express and unequivocal waiver exists,” the argument says. “Second, given that the records sought by Plaintiff involve matters pursued and obtained by the House Defendants as part of the House-authorized impeachment inquiry, they are absolutely protected by the Speech or Debate Clause.”

“Third, Plaintiff fails to state a claim because Congress has created a comprehensive scheme for the review of government records—the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)—that preempts the common law right sought to be vindicated by this litigation,” the lawyers write. “Finally, under governing case law, the records Plaintiff seeks to review are not 'public records' and, therefore, are not subject to the common law right of public access. And even if the records are 'public records,' Plaintiff has not demonstrated that the public interest in disclosure outweighs the House Defendants’ interest in non-disclosure.”