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Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks into mircrophone during hearing

POLITICS: GOP senators demand DOJ give answers after it allegedly spied on House, Senate staffers during Russia probe

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Senate Republicans are demanding answers from the Justice Department amid revelations that the agency “engaged in a campaign of covert surveillance” of congressional staffers, calling the move “a true attack on our democracy.” 

Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa; Ted Cruz of Texas; and Mike Lee of Utah penned a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Empower Oversight revealed that the Department of Justice had subpoenaed a Senate staffer’s private phone and email logs as both House and Senate lawmakers investigated the origins of the Trump-Russia probe during the Trump administration.

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“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,” they wrote. “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.”

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IO).  (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The FOIA request revealed that the Department of Justice had subpoenaed Google for all telephone connection records and text message logs for the chief investigative counsel to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jason Foster. At the time, Grassley was the chairman of the panel and was investigating DOJ misconduct. 

The senators also pointed out that further records indicated that the personal records of a House staffer working on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence were additionally “targeted as part of this vendetta campaign.” 

“Notably, in January 2018, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein threatened to subpoena HSPCI staff personal records during a confrontation over the Justice Department’s failure to comply with the committee’s compulsory process,” they wrote. “But even so, the targets of the Department and FBI were not limited to Republican staffers.”

Senator Ted Cruz

Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, March 8, 2022.  (Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The senators noted that Democrats in Congress have also called for investigations into the targeting of their private communications.

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The senators said that Empower Oversight had submitted a FOIA request for all relevant documents, including grand-jury subpoenas, communications between various offices and correspondence with the press, but stressed that “additional measures must be taken to ensure openness and accountability.” 

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Mike Lee

Senator Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, during a nomination hearing in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, May 17, 2023.  (Cheriss May/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“Notwithstanding the investigation by the Department’s Inspector General, Congress is entitled to conduct its own parallel review of this important matter,” they wrote.

Grassley, Cruz and Lee are demanding the DOJ provide all names of all DOJ officials who “drafted, supervised, or approved the issuance of the grand jury subpoenas in question or otherwise related to the consolidated leaks case.”

They also requested the names of all people employed in both the Senate and House who received subpoenas, and the names of all people in the Senate and House for which subpoenas were sought.

Rod Rosenstein

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel in May 2017 to investigate whether members of the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election.

The senators requested the “specific predicate, criteria or evidence that justified” the DOJ seeking those grand jury subpoenas for personal records belonging to members of Congress and their staffers and families.

Grassley, Cruz and Lee are also demanding information on “all other means” the DOJ used to search for information, including specific databases and use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

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They also are seeking information regarding former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s involvement in the approval or issuance of the subpoenas, or information to prove that they were executed “without his knowledge or consent.”

The senators requested that the DOJ identify all organizations subpoenaed, such as Google, Verizon, Apple AT&T and others, as part of the leaks case for information on members of Congress, their staffers and their families.

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“This extensive and far-reaching effort to use grand jury subpoenas and perhaps other means to gather the personal communications records of congressional staffers and their families with little or no legitimate predicate is absolutely unacceptable,” they wrote. “The executive branch overreach and gross violation of separation of powers apparent in this case no doubt shocks the conscience and shakes public confidence in our justice system to its core.”

They added: “The public deserves answers.”

The senators gave the Department of Justice a deadline of November 22 to respond.

The DOJ did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.



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