Senate Republicans Launch Investigation Into Justice Department for Spying on Congressional Staffers

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Every time we think we’re done with the Justice Department’s Spygate and Russia collusion controversy, it pulls us back in. It appears that at this point, we are the political versions of Michael Corleone, who can’t seem to escape what is one of the most egregious scandals in American political history.

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Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are reportedly delving deeper into allegations that the Justice Department conducted a number of covert surveillance operations on congressional staffers during the period when the agency was embroiled in the Trump-Russia investigation hoax. An exclusive by the Washington Examiner reports:

Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans are investigating allegations the Justice Department spied on congressional staffers while they probed the agency, including during its handling of the Trump-Russia inquiry, the Washington Examiner has learned.

Virginia-based whistleblower firm Empower Oversight said in a late October Freedom of Information Act request to the DOJ that its founder, Jason Foster, former chief investigative counsel to ex-Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), was notified on Oct. 19, 2023, that the agency in 2017 subpoenaed Google for records on Foster's telephone and email accounts, as well as those of other House and Senate staffers. Now, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Grassley are demanding the DOJ turn over a trove of documents on these allegations, which they wrote in a Monday letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland demonstrate "executive branch overreach."

"We write to express deep concern regarding recent revelations that the Department of Justice engaged in a campaign of covert surveillance of the personal communications of attorneys advising congressional oversight committees," the senators wrote to Garland in the letter, first obtained by the Washington Examiner. "The decision by unelected government bureaucrats to investigate the elected congressional representatives and congressional staff trying to hold them accountable is a true attack on our democracy."

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The subpoena for the staffers’ records was issued as senators were scrutinizing the FBI's and DOJ's involvement in Crossfire Hurricane, the investigation into false claims that Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with the Kremlin to influence the outcome of the presidential election.

The Wall Street Journal reported on this revelation in October, highlighting the number of officials who were affected by the DOJ’s actions.

Numerous current and former congressional staffers have learned that Justice subpoenaed their personal phone and email records in 2017, likely under the pretext of a leak investigation. The targets included Republican and Democratic staffers in the Senate and House.

They join staffers and Members of the House Intelligence Committee, who over the past two years said they were notified by Google or Apple that Justice seized their data. By our count, executive-branch prosecutors have now been caught fishing through the records of more than a dozen employees of the congressional branch. DOJ’s inspector general is probing the matter.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz informed Sen. Grassley that his office is conducting a review regarding the DOJ’s efforts to acquire communication records of Congress members, their affiliates, and the media.

This situation could be one of many undermining the credibility of the Justice Department. The Freedom of Information Act request showed that the agency was not only targeting Republican staffers but also Democrats. After all, what valid reason would the agency have for requesting those records? Moreover, why would they use the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in these investigations? It is quite significant given that the FBI used the legislation to spy on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page without just cause.

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As these investigations progress, it could show even further that accountability is not a thing in our federal government. If the FBI and DOJ’s conduct during Crossfire Hurricane and in other situations doesn’t show that our government is chock-full of corruption, I don’t know what will.

Members of the Senate investigating the matter could be a positive sign. But, the fact that Congress has done little to rein in these agencies when it comes to illegally surveilling everyday Americans doesn’t give me much hope that the legislature will finally hold them accountable.

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