Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein signed off on a surveillance operation targeting former CBS journalist Sharyl Attkisson and her family, Attkisson is claiming in a new federal lawsuit, and she’s asking for a jury to hear the evidence.
Attkisson’s suit, filed in Baltimore and Alexandria, Virginia, claims an informant stepped forward to provide new information on Rosenstein’s role in the operation, which took place from 2011-13, during Rosenstein’s tenure as U.S. attorney for Maryland.
Attkisson “first acquired the details regarding key individuals involved in the surveillance in August, 2019, from a person involved in the wrongdoing who has come forward to provide information,” attorneys wrote in the Jan. 10 filing. “Prior to that time, the government and its agents and representatives had denied that any such conduct had occurred, including denials in court pleadings and argument.”
The filing claims Shaun Bridges, Robert Clarke, Ryan White and former FBI Executive Assistant Director Shawn Henry were part of a federal task force Rosenstein headed. Henry is now the chief security officer for cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, the company that investigated the 2016 breach of the Democratic National Committee. Rosenstein is presently a partner with the law firm King & Spalding.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 in May to uphold the dismissal of an earlier suit Attkisson filed, citing procedural violations that included “unjustifiably broad discovery requests” aimed at identifying who had allegedly targeted her.
Judge James Wynn, Jr., issued a dissenting opinion in the case. “Attkisson never got a meaningful opportunity to pursue her claims because the government did everything in its power to run out the clock,” Wynn wrote. “This court long has held that plaintiffs — like Attkisson — who state a plausible claim that unnamed defendants violated their constitutional or statutory rights are entitled to a meaningful opportunity to engage in discovery.”
Attkisson asserts that she was targeted for her coverage of the Justice Department’s “gun walking” operation, Fast and Furious. An Office of Inspector General inspection of her personal computer found “a great deal of advanced … computer activity not attributable to Attkisson or anybody in her household,” Attkisson’s suit notes, but “paradoxically … found no evidence of intrusion.”
Outside analysts disagreed. Leslie Szwajkowski, an attorney who headed the FBI’s Electronic Surveillance Technology Section, submitted an affidavit in the case describing “clear evidence” that Attkisson had been targeted by spyware “proprietary to … government agencies,” including the CIA, FBI and NSA.
In a Wednesday letter to Attorney General William Barr, Republican Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson called the OIG’s findings into question. “In light of the … documented abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court applications by the FBI, I am especially concerned about these unresolved questions regarding the alleged surveillance of Attkisson,” Johnson wrote. “It is well past time that Attkisson, Congress, and the American public receive answers to questions that have remained outstanding for over six years.”
Johnson, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, is asking the Justice Department to provide more information on Attkisson’s case.
Attkisson said in a statement that her suit was about bringing accountability to the federal government, writing, “I’ve learned that when the Justice Department won’t hold its own accountable, the ability to get justice in civil court can be nearly impossible for an ordinary citizen, even when irrefutable forensic proof and admissions are in hand.
“There are six ways from Sunday that the Justice Department can make sure the proof is never seen by a jury,” she added. “On the other hand, it’s worth the fight because at least we are bringing important information to light about the illegal government abuses that I believe have happened to many U.S. citizens, the least of which is me.”