In July, we wrote about revelations that the U.S. Department of Justice subpoenaed Google for the private data of House Intel staffers looking into the origins of the FBI’s Russiagate investigation. Then, in October, we wrote about a FOIA request from Empower Oversight seeking documents shedding light on the extent to which the executive branch is spying on Members of Congress. Now, following the launch of an official inquiry, Rep. Jim Jordan has issued a subpoena to Attorney General Merrick Garland for further information on the DOJ’s efforts to surveil Congress and congressional staff.
On Halloween, Jordan launched his inquiry into the DOJ’s apparent attempts to spy on Congress, sending letters to the CEOs of Alphabet, Apple, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon requesting, for example, “[a]ll documents and communications between or among Apple employees and Justice Department employees referring or relating to subpoenas or requests issued by the Department of Justice to Apple for personal or official records or communications of Members of Congress or congressional staff….”
Jordan also sent a letter to Garland, asserting that “[t]he Justice Department’s efforts to obtain the private communications of congressional staffers, including staffers conducting oversight of the Department, is wholly unacceptable and offends fundamental separation of powers principles as well as Congress’s constitutional authority to conduct oversight of the Justice Department.”
Nearly two months later, according to Jordan, the DOJ’s response has been insufficient. In a letter to Garland dated December 19, 2023, Jordan says that the “Committee must resort to compulsory process” due to “the Department’s inadequate response to date.”
That response, to be fair, did include a letter to Jordan dated December 4 conveying that the legal process used related to an investigation “into the unauthorized disclosure of classified information in a national media publication. Jordan, citing news reports, contends that the investigation actually “centered on FISA warrants obtained by the Justice Department on former Trump campaign associate Carter Page” (which the Justice Department Inspector General faulted for “significant inaccuracies and omissions”).
Whatever the underlying motivation, Jordan is right to find DOJ’s explanation to date unsatisfying. Spying on Congress not only brings with it tremendous separation of powers concerns but raises a broader question about FISA and other processes that would reveal Americans’ personal information without sufficient predication.
We need answers. Who authorized these DOJ subpoenas? And how can we make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again? PPSA looks forward to further developments in this story.