The House Judiciary Committee is ramping up its investigation into alleged efforts by the Department of Justice to surveil members of Congress and congressional staff. Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) announced on Tuesday that he had issued a subpoena to Attorney General Merrick Garland for information related to the apparent use of subpoenas to obtain private communications of legislative branch employees.
In a letter to Garland, Jordan expressed his concern over the DOJ's "inadequate response" to his previous requests for information. He cited news reports that suggest the DOJ's investigation may have been a pretext to justify gaining access to private communications of members of Congress involved in oversight of the department.
The DOJ has previously stated that the legal process it used was related to an investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of classified information. This investigation reportedly pertained to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) surveillance of former Trump campaign associate Carter Page, which has faced criticism for its reliance on discredited information.
The House Judiciary Committee's investigation was prompted by revelations that the DOJ subpoenaed Google for the personal communication records of Jason Foster, founder of government watchdog group Empower Oversight, during his time as chief investigative counsel for then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA). At the time, Grassley and his team were conducting oversight of the DOJ's handling of the now-discredited Steele dossier, which was used to obtain a FISA warrant to wiretap Page.
Empower Oversight also claims to have evidence that other accounts listed in the subpoena belonged to staffers of both political parties from various House and Senate committees, all of whom were engaged in oversight investigations of the DOJ at the time.
Jordan's previous requests for information from the DOJ and CEOs of tech and communications companies have gone largely unanswered, according to the cover letter. The DOJ has provided a timeline and brief description of its recent policy changes for investigations involving members of Congress, as well as documents related to the indictment and guilty plea of former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer James Wolfe in a national security leak investigation.
The Executive Branch's use of its law enforcement authority to access private communications of legislative branch employees raises concerns about the separation of powers and the department's motivations for the investigation, Jordan wrote in his letter. The committee is also concerned that the investigation may have been a pretext to justify obtaining sensitive information from members and staff involved in oversight of the DOJ.
Until the House Judiciary Committee receives a satisfactory response to its requests for information, Jordan says the panel is resorting to compulsory process. This subpoena is just the latest development in the ongoing investigation, as the committee seeks to determine the extent of the DOJ's actions and any potential legislative reforms that may be necessary to prevent such behavior in the future.