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A True Bipartisan Scandal

A True Bipartisan Scandal

How out of control is our surveillance state? Read about a dubious investigation that swept up communications of some of the country’s most senior highest officials, and their families, in secret

Last October, current and former congressional staffers from both parties began receiving curious notices. They came from Google, which obeyed years of gag orders before finally informing House and Senate aides, legal advisors, even members of Congress themselves that their Gmail messages and Google phone records had been turned over to the Justice Department as part of a leak investigation.

Former Senate Judiciary Committee Chief Investigative Counsel Jason Foster, now at Empower Oversight, received a notice on October 19th last year, telling him the Justice Department obtained records for his Gmail account as well as “two Google Voice telephone numbers connected to his family’s telephones and his official work phone” back in 2017. At that time, he was coordinating with confidential sources and whistleblowers for the Judiciary Committee. A number of senior Congressional staffers from both parties with access to sensitive information were similarly targeted.

What’s the rub? Agencies like the Department of Justice get more latitude to demand, say, records of contacts between individuals than they do the contents of emails or phone calls. However, when dealing with things like the identities of whistleblowers, confidential sources, or journalists, the contacts are the content. Prosecutors didn’t tell Google this crucial context, that it was seeking records of its own congressional overseers. In an effort to find out if the state was similarly cavalier in what it told the court, Foster filed a motion yesterday to unseal the DOJ’s filings in the case. It described the bipartisan nature of the problem:

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