Republican Representative from Ohio and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan just subpoenaed Biden Attorney General Merrick Garland on Tuesday, with the subpoena being based on documents related to the DOJ obtaining the private communication information of congressional aides in 2017.
In the subpoena, Rep. Jordan argued that he and his committee need those documents to “independently determine” if the DOJ, when it itself subpoenaed the private information of congressional staff members involved in investigating the DOJ for its handling of the Trump-Russia matter, breached the separation of powers.
Explaining the matter in a letter, Rep. Jordan said, “The Committee on the Judiciary is conducting oversight of the Justice Department’s use of its law-enforcement authority to obtain the private communications of Members of Congress and congressional staff members. On October 31, 2023, we wrote to you to request information from the Justice Department regarding the Department’s subpoenas to obtain private communications of Legislative Branch employees. Due to the Department’s inadequate response to date, the Committee must resort to compulsory process.”
Then, after explaining the background of the Committee’s attempts to acquire the relevant information from the DOJ without resorting to a subpoena, something the DOJ’s intransigence made impossible, Rep. Jordan argued that the DOJ abused its authority.
He wrote, “If the Department’s representation is accurate, it indicates that the Executive Branch used its immense law-enforcement authority to gather and search the private communications of multiple Legislative Branch employees who were conducting Constitutional oversight of the Department’s investigative actions—actions that were later found to be unlawful. Because the Department has not complied in full with our requests, we cannot independently determine whether the Department sought to alleviate the heightened separation-of-powers sensitivities involved or whether the Department first sought the information through other means before resorting to legal process. The Committee also has concerns that aspects of the Department’s investigation may have been a pretext to justify piercing the Legislative Branch’s deliberative process and improperly access data from Members and staff involved in conducting oversight of the Department.”
Continuing, he then vowed that the Judiciary Committee would use its power to investigate the DOJ to its satisfaction and then hold it accountable, saying, “Pursuant to the Rules of the House of Representatives, the Committee on the Judiciary has jurisdiction to conduct oversight of the Justice Department to inform potential legislative reforms that protect civil liberties and prevent the Department from misusing its law-enforcement authorities.“
Concluding, Rep. Jordan explained what reforms and changes to the DOJ that the Committee is considering, saying, “Potential legislative reforms the Committee may consider include, among other proposals, establishing certain requirements for the Justice Department to provide appropriate notice when it seeks to access private information belonging to an employee of the Legislative Branch. The Committee may also consider legislative proposals to reform how often the Department may request an extension on a non-disclosure order without providing a compelling justification for the continued secrecy. The information we have requested regarding the Department’s use of legal process to obtain the private communications of Members of Congress and congressional staff members is necessary to inform such potential legislation.”
The DOJ, for its part, told Rep. Jordan this December that it had taken “several significant steps” in 2021, the time the subpoenas of legislative staffers surfaced, to address the issue and address the allegations that it had overstepped its authority in issuing those subpoenas.
Featured image credit: The White House, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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