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DOJ Blocked Google From Informing Congressional Staffers They Were Being Spied On, Court Orders Show

(Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP) (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP via Getty Images)

James Lynch Investigative Reporter
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The Department of Justice (DOJ) secured court orders to prevent Google from informing congressional staffers of the DOJ’s efforts to monitor their communications, according to court documents.

Legal group Empower Oversight released the five court orders Monday after filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the records related to the DOJ’s previously unknown attempts to monitor the communications of staffers conducting oversight of the department.

Empower Oversight founder Jason Foster was one of the staffers targeted by the DOJ’s 2017 subpoena of communications, the group said in a late November FOIA request for records related to the DOJ’s applications for the secrecy orders. (RELATED: DOJ Releases Heavily Redacted Search Warrant For Donald Trump’s Twitter Account)

READ THE COURT ORDERS:

“IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that, pursuant to l8 U.S.C. g 2705(b). Google and its employees shall not disclose the existence of the subpoena to any other person (except attorneys for Google for the purpose of receiving legal advice) for a period of one year (commencing on the date of this Order) or until further court order or whichever is sooner,” the September 2017 court order reads. The document was signed by a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the District of Columbia.

The DOJ investigation appears to be connected to the conviction of former Senate Intelligence Committee Director of Security James Wolfe, according to Empower Oversight. He pleaded guilty in December 2018 to one count of false statements and sentenced to two months in prison for lying to the FBI. For three years after Wolfe’s prosecution, the DOJ secured additional court orders to hide the Google subpoenas from staffers.

The DOJ secured court orders from 2019-2021 preventing the release of the 2017 subpoena for Foster’s records, Empower Oversight found. Foster was Republican Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley’s chief investigative counsel when he chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee.

READ THE FOIA REQUEST:

“On October 19, 2023, Jason Foster, Founder of Empower Oversight, received a notification that the U.S. Department of Justice (‘DOJ’) had served legal process on Google in 2017 for records of a Google Voice telephone number that connected to his family’s telephones,” the Empower Oversight FOIA request states.

Republican and Democratic attorneys were targeted by the DOJ subpoena issued on Sept. 12, 2017. The DOJ subpoena compelled Google to release names, addresses, telephone records, text messages and additional communications from Dec. 1, 2016 to May 1, 2017, Empower Oversight said in the FOIA request.

“Because the subpoena for Mr. Foster’s records raises serious public interest questions about the basis for such intrusion into the personal communications of attorneys advising congressional committees conducting oversight of DOJ,” Empower Oversight President Tristan Leavitt wrote.

“The limited circumstances under which a court may issue an order under § 2705(b) raises the question of whether the claims [the] DOJ made to the court were true and whether those claims actually support the orders.”

The DOJ and Google did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.

James Lynch

James Lynch can be reached on Twitter @jameslynch32