USA 2024 Elections Thread

grarpamp grarpamp at
Tue Jan 9 22:35:25 PST 2024

Enemies Of The Administrative State

by Benjamin Weingarten

Amid allegations from conservative lawmakers and activists that
Washington, D.C.’s most powerful agencies have been weaponized against
their critics, one organization has not only played a key role in
helping marshal evidence of such malfeasance, but found itself at the
center of an emerging government targeting scandal that would seem to
only further substantiate the claims of administrative state critics.

That organization is Empower Oversight Whistleblowers & Research. It
has represented whistleblowers at the heart of some of the most
consequential and contentious congressional investigations in recent
years, touching on matters ranging from the impeachment inquiry into
President Biden, to alleged FBI inflation of the domestic terror

In a perhaps telling response to these efforts, the nonprofits’
whistleblowing clients have faced not only alleged reprisals from
their government employers but also condemnation from Democrats in
Congress and skepticism from media outlets that have often
uncritically supported whistleblowers.

Recently, evidence has come to light suggesting the Justice Department
spied on one of Empower Oversight’s principals while he was serving as
a congressional investigator tasked with probing DOJ malfeasance. The
man in question, Empower Oversight founder and chairman Jason Foster,
is seeking to shed light on this conduct.

Foster launched the watchdog group in July 2021 for the purpose of
“helping insiders safely and legally report problems to the proper
authorities and … to hold those authorities accountable for fixing
them.” Its lawyers help whistleblowers come forward, use the Freedom
of Information Act to obtain documents, and when necessary, litigate
“so that Americans can confront abuses of authority.”

Foster formed Empower Oversight after accumulating years of experience
conducting congressional investigations often built on facilitating
protected disclosures from federal employees – including as a top
staffer for Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Charles
Grassley, an Iowa Republican.

Foster and another former Grassley staff veteran, Empower Oversight
President Tristan Leavitt, helped IRS agent Gary Shapley. He
testified, alongside colleague Joseph Ziegler, that the Justice
Department thwarted the investigation into the Hunter Biden case and
worked to insulate Joe Biden from scrutiny.

Had Shapley not come forward and been shepherded through Congress with
Empower Oversight’s assistance, Americans might never have learned of
myriad aspects of the Biden family’s foreign dealings and the DOJ’s
seeming reluctance to investigate.

Other notable clients aided by Empower Oversight recently include
current or former FBI officials Marcus Allen, Steve Friend, and George
Hill. These men testified about how the nation’s premier law
enforcement agency had engaged in “egregious abuse, misallocation of
law-enforcement resources, and misconduct with the leadership ranks,”
according to a House Judiciary Committee and Select Subcommittee on
the Weaponization of the Federal Government majority report.

Democratic members on the Judiciary Committee issued their own report
seemingly aimed at discrediting the FBI whistleblowers in March 2023,
including Friend and Hill. Democrats cast these ex-officials as “not,
in fact, ‘whistleblowers,’” but rather as disgruntled employees “who
put forward a wide range of conspiracy theories” while “not
present[ing] actual evidence of any wrongdoing at the Department of
Justice or the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

This adversarial posture was on full display during a May 2023 hearing
of the House Judiciary’s Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of
the Federal Government, in which several FBI whistleblowers

Delegate Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands, the ranking
subcommittee Democrat, characterized the agents appearing before them,
including Allen and Friend, as “a threat to our national security”
after word had come down from the FBI just prior to the hearing that
the men had had their security clearances stripped. The agents suggest
that this move was retaliation for their having come forward.

“[O]ut of malice or ignorance or both,” ranking member Plaskett added,
the agents “have put partisan agenda above the oath they swore to
serve this country.” The ranking member made these attacks on men with
a demonstrated devotion to and records of achievement in defending the
United States. Allen, most notably, is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who
served two combat tours in Iraq and was awarded multiple medals for
his service.

Minority members had heaped similar scorn on writers Matt Taibbi and
Michael Shellenberger. Plaskett smeared the award-winning reporters as
“so-called journalists.”

Democrats also tried to demean Jonathan Turley as a defender of
polygamists and pedophiles. The normally mild-mannered constitutional
law professor confronted the hostile members for their attempts to
slime witnesses with whom they disagreed.

But the House Democrats have reserved their greatest vitriol for the
“so-called whistleblowers” of the FBI.

Beyond deriding the witnesses and dismissing their testimony,
Democrats and media allies have sought to frame them as de facto
partisan pawns of House Republicans, in part by dint of their
affiliation with conservative-led organizations such as Empower

A spokesperson for the watchdog group told me that though it is
“disappointing” and “highly hypocritical for those who have vowed in
the past to protect whistleblowers,” the skepticism and hostility they
have faced is nevertheless “politics as usual in Washington.”

“What makes congressional Democrats’ attacks different is that the
mainstream media has trumpeted their partisan narrative while ignoring
the facts,” Empower Oversight Senior Communications Advisor Beth
Levine said. “If these lawmakers and media outlets were serious, they
would engage on the substance of the disclosures and not just attack
the messengers (or those providing them with legal aid).”

The instinct of federal bureaucrats to try to silence or undercut
whistleblowers did not begin during the Biden administration. Jason
Foster’s brush with the Department of Justice began when Donald Trump
was president – before he started Empower Oversight – and it happened
without his knowledge.

Last October, Foster received a notification that in September 2017,
while he was serving as chief investigative counsel to the Chuck
Grassley-led Senate Judiciary Committee, the Department of Justice
subpoenaed a Google Voice phone number connected to his family’s

Foster may not have been the only one. Empower Oversight officials
believe that other accounts listed in the subpoena are associated with
Democratic and Republican attorneys then working on House and Senate
staff committees that were scrutinizing the Justice Department.

Kash Patel has publicly indicated that he received a similar notice. A
former top staffer for Rep. Devin Nunes, the California Republican who
chaired the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Patel
was responsible in large part for drafting the so-called Nunes Memo.
Released in February 2018, it detailed deficiencies in the FISA
warrant application and renewals used by the Justice Department to
snoop on Trump campaign aide Carter Page. The “unacceptable level of
errors and omissions” in the applications, as the Justice Department
Inspector General would later characterize them, would taint the
Trump-Russia collusion investigation from its early days.

Weeks prior to the memo’s release, in a meeting with senior FBI and
DOJ officials, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein reportedly
threatened to subpoena the communications of Patel and his colleagues
on the House Intelligence Committee in response to their vigorous
investigation of the Trump-Russia probe.

Little did Patel know that the Justice Department had already made a
practice of issuing subpoenas for such records from congressional

The request for Foster and his colleagues’ communication records
sought not only information about their accounts, but telephone
records and text message logs from Dec. 1, 2016, to May 1, 2017.
What’s more, the Justice Department would seek, and the courts would
grant, five one-year nondisclosure orders prohibiting Google from
notifying congressional staff, including Foster, that their records
had been sought.

Foster believes that the ostensible basis for the subpoenas may have
been the federal investigation, opened in 2017, into the unauthorized
disclosure of certain classified information to the media, including
the Page FISA warrant, details about which would leak in April of that

Interestingly, Foster told RealClearPolitics that he and his
colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee had reviewed the
then-classified FISA application in March 2017, only after the Justice
Department had volunteered its existence to them. Foster speculates
that “perhaps the career folks thought it would be a persuasive way to
convince us there was something real and serious to the Russia
collusion claims.”

When, several weeks later, information about the Page FISA warrant
emerged publicly, Foster says, “We assumed the leaks came from
executive branch or Democrat sources on the Hill – but found it
disconcerting that we were shown a classified document we didn’t ask
for and then a few weeks later saw info about it leak so quickly –
while the FISA coverage was still active, I might add.”

Foster continues, “We certainly understood that would put legislative
branch staff in the cone of suspicion for that leak. But lots of
others also had access to the information.”

In 2017, the FBI investigated James Wolfe, former security director
for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The following
year, the DOJ indicted him on false-statement charges pertaining to
the leak investigation. Wolfe would ultimately plead guilty to one
count of making a false statement to special agents of the FBI. The
false statement, however, concerned whether he had provided
unclassified but not publicly available information to reporters, not
the leak of the Page FISA warrant.

No such leaker has ever been charged.

Empower Oversight asserted in a FOIA request pertaining to the
subpoenas of congressional committee staffers that:

There appears to have been an extensive and far-reaching effort to use
grand jury subpoenas and perhaps other means to gather the personal
communications records of innocent congressional attorneys and their
families with little or no legitimate predicate.

The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General is currently
reviewing the DOJ’s use of subpoenas to target members of Congress and
their staffers.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan recently subpoenaed
Attorney General Merrick Garland for documents regarding the targeting
of the private communications of legislative branch employees.

In a cover letter, Jordan noted that the executive branch had targeted
those “conducting Constitutional oversight of the Department’s
investigative actions – actions that were later found to be unlawful.”

For now, Foster chooses his words carefully when asked about the
government’s rationale regarding the subpoenas. “We don’t know enough
yet to draw conclusions about an ulterior motive beyond legitimately
investigating the leak,” he said. “But there has been far too little
independent oversight and scrutiny of the process to just presume good
faith on the government’s part.”

To get to the bottom of this spying story, Foster recommends that the
inspector general and congressional probes should focus on several key
questions: Was the government truthful with the court in obtaining the
non-disclosure orders? Did it apply the same level of scrutiny to
senior executive branch officials with access to the Page FISA
application? Did it keep the information it gathered on congressional
staff for purposes other than the leak investigation? Finally, were
other, more intrusive steps taken to intercept congressional
communications than is currently known?

One thing he’s convinced of: If you’re taking flak, chances are you
may be getting close to the target. For Empower Oversight, this adage
would seem to apply both to its clients and its own principals.

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