Federal prosecutors spied on Congress in search for leaks, now DOJ is being investigated for it
Numerous House, Senate investigators belatedly alerted their phone records subpoenaed dating to 2017, DOJ inspector general opens inquiry.
Several current and former congressional oversight staff have been recently informed that the U.S. Justice Department seized their phone and email records back in 2017 as part of leak investigations, belated revelations that have touched off an inquiry by DOJ's internal watchdog and raised serious concerns about the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.
Over the last week, several current and former Senate and House staff from both political parties have alerted Congress that they received belated notifications from Apple, Google or other Big Tech firms that their email or phone records were obtained from their personal devices via a grand jury subpoena.
Officials said the seizures were related, in part, to leak investigations stemming from the FBI's now-discredited Crossfire Hurricane investigation into Russia collusion.
The targeted staffers include people who worked for the Senate Judiciary and House Intelligence committees who have direct oversight responsibility for the FBI and Justice Department, raising concerns that the legislative branch overseers were being monitored by those they oversee in the executive branch.
"The Justice Department’s secret targeting of congressional investigators is a new low in the agency’s sordid history of abusing its authority to evade accountability," Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, told Just the News on Monday evening.
At least one of Grassley's former investigators when the senator chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee and helped uncover FBI wrongdoing in the Russia case, Jason Foster, recently received a notification of a subpoena dating to fall 2017.
"Ever since the botched Crossfire Hurricane investigation came to light, the FBI and Justice Department have gone to great lengths to cover up and distract from their own malfeasance. Their actions only serve to underscore the importance of Congress’ constitutional oversight responsibility. This attack on congressional investigators will not deter us from that duty, and the department must answer for this abuse,” Grassley also said.
The newly notified congressional investigators join former House Intelligence Committee chief investigative counsel Kash Patel and one other aide who served on that same panel who got notifications last year. Patel recently sued the government for violations of his civil liberties.
The notifications suggest the grand jury probe began in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington, D.C., under the Trump DOJ, involved leaks of sensitive information that had been shared with Congress in 2017 and targeted Republicans and Democrats, including former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff. Those notified have expressed shock as well as outrage.
Patel told Just the News the effort to spy on congressional investigators and who they were talking with smacked of a "vengeance campaign in the form of government funded lawfare against myself and other senior congressional staffers" who uncovered wrongdoing by DOJ and the FBI.
"They utilized surveillance powers to leverage information against our investigation, because we had exposed their corruption of lying to a federal court and allowing a political party to buy the FBI's central command and attack a political opponent," he also said.
The focus, officials said, appears to be on information conveyed to Congress in spring 2017 and later leaked.
A government official told Just the News on Monday evening a dozen or more congressional staffers and lawmakers have received notifications in recent months that their personal phone and email records were obtained by grand jury subpoenas or search warrants and that Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz has been investigating for months the targeting of the congressional staffers and whether federal prosecutors followed proper procedures designed to protect the separation of powers between Congress and the executive branch.
A source directly familiar with Horowitz’s inquiry confirmed the investigation is ongoing but has been slowed by delays in DOJ's providing information to the watchdog.
A memo on the IG Web site summarizing Horowitz's ongoing probes shows the inquiry into the targeting of Congress was started in June 2021 and is designed to determine if DOJ violated its own rules in how it pursued phone and email data of con
"The DOJ OIG is reviewing the DOJ’s use of subpoenas and other legal authorities to obtain communication records of Members of Congress and affiliated persons, and the news media in connection with recent investigations of alleged unauthorized disclosures of information to the media by government officials," the memo stated.
"The review will examine the Department’s compliance with applicable DOJ policies and procedures, and whether any such uses, or the investigations, were based upon improper considerations," the memo also states. "If circumstances warrant, the OIG will consider other issues that may arise during the review. The review will not substitute the OIG’s judgment for the legal and investigative judgments made in the matters under OIG review."
Horowitz's office has uncovered significant wrongdoing in recent years inside DOJ and FBI, ranging from the falsification of information submitted in a FISA warrant during the Russia probe to instances of sexual abuse and harassment inside the bureau.
A senior DOJ official reached Monday evening declined comment, citing the ongoing IG inquiry.
In his lawsuit naming FBI Director Christopher Wray and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Patel laid out the dangers of allowing FBI and DOJ officials to seize the records of congressional oversight committee staff, especially those who uncovered wrongdoing like the misconduct of FBI and DOJ personnel during the now-discredited Russia collusion probe.
“The U.S. Government has been repeatedly exposed for spying on its own people, and the awesome and chilling power of our federal law enforcement agencies has been weaponized against the American people,” Patel’s lawsuit last month charged.
“It is particularly troubling and a clear violation of Mr. Patel’s Fourth Amendment rights that the FBI and DOJ agents would seek Mr. Patel’s personal information due to his role in a legitimate oversight investigation,” the suit also states. “Moreover, it is a shocking and troubling violation of the separation of powers that the FBI and DOJ, through its agents, refused to comply with and instead sought retribution against those carrying out said investigation initiated in the Legislative Branch."