House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) has issued a subpoena to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to appear before his panel and explain alleged efforts to surveil members of Congress and congressional staff, which included during the so-called “Russiagate” scandal when then-President Donald Trump was in the White House.
“The Committee on the Judiciary is conducting oversight of the Justice Department’s use of its law-enforcement authority to obtain the private communications of Members of Congress and congressional staff members,” a letter from Jordan to Garland began.
The letter noted that the Committee initially requested the DOJ provide the information on Oct. 31, but since no information was forthcoming, it was time for the panel to “resort to compulsory process.”
“On November 8, the Department informed the Committee via e-mail of a change to the Department of Justice’s policies and procedures in criminal investigations involving Members of Congress and their staff’ that ‘impose[s] new requirements to consult with, or receive approval from, the Public Integrity Section.’”
“This communication, however, provided no update on the status of the Department’s response to our October 31 letter. After receiving no subsequent information from the Department, on November 28, 2023, the Committee wrote to you again reiterating our requests and requesting material relating to the Department’s policy changes as announced on November 7,” the letter continued.
Jordan referred to news reports suggesting that the investigation was related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) surveillance of former Trump campaign associate Carter Page. The FISA warrants, criticized by the Department of Justice (DOJ) inspector general and later acknowledged by the DOJ to have relied on “insufficient predication,” were a key aspect of the inquiry.
In October, the government watchdog group Empower Oversight disclosed that its founder, Jason Foster, had received notification that the Department of Justice had subpoenaed Google for his personal communication records in 2017. At that time, Foster served as the chief investigative counsel to then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the Daily Wire reported.
The subpoena was issued while Grassley and his team were investigating the DOJ’s handling of the discredited anti-Trump dossier compiled by British ex-spy Christopher Steele.
The dossier was used by the FBI to obtain authorization to wiretap Carter Page during the investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Empower Oversight also claimed to have information “indicating that the other accounts listed in the subpoena belonged to other staffers, both Republicans and Democrats, for U.S. House and Senate committees also engaged in oversight investigations of the Justice Department at the time pursuant to their authorities under the U.S. Constitution.”
In his late October letter, Jordan noted that he sent requests for information to the DOJ and the CEOs of various technology and communications companies. In response, the DOJ provided a timeline and a “brief description” of recent policy changes for investigations involving members of Congress and their staff.
Additionally, the DOJ shared “publicly available” documents related to the indictment and guilty plea of former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer James Wolfe, who was involved in a national security leak investigation.
The Executive Branch seems to have used its “immense law-enforcement authority to gather and search the private communications of multiple Legislative Branch employees who were conducting Constitutional oversight of the Department’s investigative actions — actions that were later found to be unlawful,” Jordan wrote.
“Because the Department has not complied in full with our requests, we cannot independently determine whether the Department sought to alleviate the heightened separation-of-powers sensitivities involved or whether the Department first sought the information through other means before resorting to legal process,” Jordan added.
“The Committee also has concerns that aspects of the Department’s investigation may have been a pretext to justify piercing the Legislative Branch’s deliberative process and improperly access data from Members and staff involved in conducting oversight of the Department,” he wrote.