Big Brother? Senator demands consequences for 'rogue' Commerce Department police activities

Weeks after Senate report highlighted a law enforcement agency exceeding its authorities, Grassley wants to know what's being done.

Updated: August 3, 2021 - 11:45pm

Two dozen whistleblowers came forward to a Senate investigation alleging the Commerce Department's primary law enforcement agency operated outside its legal authority to, among other things, spy on Asian-American workers. More than three weeks after the findings were released, a prominent senator is demanding to know whether there will be consequences.

The Commerce Department's Investigative and Threat Management Service (ITMS) "grossly exceeded the scope of its authority," and "such misconduct was made worse by the Commerce Department's failure to perform adequate oversight," Sen. Charles Grassley, (R-Iowa) wrote Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo on Tuesday.

"As a result, ITMS was able to operate without any accountability to the taxpayer," added Grassley, one of the longest serving members of the Senate and a lifelong champion of whistleblowers.

Grassley's letter came after Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee released a report on July 13 recounting the allegations of two dozen whistleblowers who claimed the ITMS went "rogue" to conduct searches and criminal and counterintelligence activities not authorized by its charter.

"Although many investigations targeted legitimate threats, the ITMS appears to have opened cases on a variety of employees for the purpose of exaggerating the unit's ability to uncover security risks within the civil service," the report concluded. "The unit targeted visible employees across the Department, including award-winning professionals whose background investigations had been successfully adjudicated by other agencies.

"These probes often resulted in suspended or revoked security clearances, although subsequent reviews largely determined that the unit's allegations lacked merit. The ITMS also broadly targeted departmental divisions with comparably high proportions of Asian-American employees, ostensibly to counter attempts of espionage by individuals with Chinese ancestry."

The report also raised concerns about retaliation, noting that "former and current ITMS employees became subjects as well for challenging the lawfulness of the unit's practices."

Grassley asked Raimondo to answer 10 questions including whether the agency's director still remains in charge and was ever trained to conduct criminal investigations, whether any discipline has been meted out and whether she could provide copies of affidavits for any search warrants the agency executed against Commerce employees.

Grassley's office said his goal was to make public the "details on corrective actions taken to address rogue law enforcement and intelligence activity by department employees" as detailed in the Senate report. It also noted senators are concerned other federal law enforcement agencies that don't get regular scrutiny may be complicit in the ITMS' behavior.

"The ITMS' reported actions raise serious questions about failures by other agencies to properly train and oversee the unit and safeguard sensitive government records," Grassley's office said in a press release.

The demand for accountability comes as Republicans express frustration that FBI and DOJ officials who committed wrongdoing in the now-discredited Russia collusion scandal have not faced more punishment or prosecution. Special Counsel John Durham has been conducting an investigation for more than two years.

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