Throughout the 2016 campaign and the Trump presidency, leaks cascaded out of the FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) straight to The Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, and other left-wing organizations. Anonymous officials at these and other federal agencies ran an information operation to falsely accuse President Donald Trump of having stolen the 2016 election by treasonously colluding with Russia.
These leaks included sharing with Jake Tapper that discredited former FBI head James Comey briefed President Obama and President-elect Trump of false allegations, the criminal sharing with David Ignatius of a phone call Michael Flynn shared with his Russian counterpart to falsely portray him as a traitor, and hundreds if not thousands of other leaks to paint the false picture.
But instead of investigating any of those leaks, including the criminal leaks, the DOJ turned its investigative powers on the staff of Congress members looking into the Russia-collusion scam.
This week, the nonpartisan whistleblower organization Empower Oversight revealed that the DOJ targeted and surveilled Jason Foster, a Senate staffer heading the investigation into the Russia-collusion hoax, and other congressional staffers. The DOJ’s website suggests that subpoenas of Foster and other staffers’ personal information were “in connection with recent investigations of alleged unauthorized disclosures of information to the media.”
But the DOJ and FBI’s own staff are the most probable leakers. If “the personal phone and email records of every Executive Branch official who had access to the same information” were not also subpoenaed by the DOJ, “the entire exercise looks more like a pretext to gather intelligence on those conducting oversight of the Department rather than a legitimate classified leak inquiry,” Empower explained.
Foster, who is Empower’s founder, learned that in September 2017 the DOJ subpoenaed records from a Google Voice telephone number that connected to his family’s telephones. At the time, Foster was Chief Investigative Counsel to U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, and he was investigating the FBI’s role in furthering the debunked Russia-collusion hoax.
Google provided Foster with a copy of the subpoena which also included the request for records from separate, redacted Google accounts. Empower Oversight says it has “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.”
“For each of the listed telephone and email accounts, the subpoena compelled Google to release customer or subscriber information, as well as subscribers’ names, addresses, local and long distance telephone connection records, text message logs, records of session times and durations, length of service and types of service utilized for the period from December 1, 2016 to May 1, 2017,” Empower recounted in its FOIA request.
Both congressional Republicans and Democrats have called for investigations into the DOJ subpoenaing personal information on them, their staff, and even their families. For example, Empower notes that the number the DOJ subpoenaed for Foster was actually used by his wife, “who never communicated with the media on that phone number or any other.” The DOJ even sent a subpoena to Apple for the “communications data” of a child.
“There appears to have been an extensive and far-reaching effort to use grand jury subpoenas and perhaps other means to gather the personal communications records of innocent congressional staffers and their families with little or no legitimate predicate,” Empower stated in its FOIA request.
The watchdog is asking for “all documents or communications” related to the subpoena of Foster’s and other congressional staffers’ information, as well as “all [of the] grand jury subpoenas” in the case themselves.
Empower is also seeking “all communications exchanged between members of the press” and several senior officials within the DOJ between Dec. 1, 2016, and Sept. 26, 2017 “regarding communications between Michael Flynn and Sergey Kislyak, Carter Page, Joe Pientka, Bill Priestap, congressional oversight requests, Senator Charles Grassley, Jason Foster, and/or the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.”
Foster told The Federalist that each of these top officials, including Rod Rosenstein, Robert Hur, Edward O’Callaghan, Sarah Isgur, and Jessie Liu, would have had a role in approving or overseeing the subpoena on congressional staffers.
Lastly, Empower requested “All communications exchanged between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, the National Security Division, the Deputy Attorney General’s Office and/or the FBI and Verizon” since March 15, 2016 “regarding obtaining communications data associated with devices that Verizon serviced for U.S. House Representatives or U.S. Senate.”
Foster explained that Empower singled out Verizon because all government-provided work phones on Capitol Hill use that provider.
The Justice Department claims to be “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[.]”
“The subpoena for Mr. Foster’s records raises the same concerns as that of his other Democrat and Republican colleagues working for Congress at the time,” wrote Empower in its FOIA request. “It begs the question of whether DOJ was equally zealous in seeking the communication records of its own employees with access to any leaked information.”