Many Americans remain nonplussed over revelations in the House Intelligence Committee’s Impeachment Inquiry Report that its chairman, Adam Schiff, not only secretly subpoenaed telephone records from President Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, but also obtained responses that detailed dates and lengths of phone calls to Trump attorney Jay Sekulow, ranking committee member Devin Nunes, and Hill reporter John Solomon. That Schiff self-disclosed this action as a rightful part of his committee’s information gathering is equally stunning.
Every bit as bad, it appears that national telephone carriers AT&T and Verizon, who so tout their corporate concerns about subscriber privacy, responded to such obviously politicized demands without a whimper.
Schiff’s actions, and indeed those of everyone involved in secretly demanding and producing these phone records, while perhaps not outright illegal, are simply beyond the pale and reminiscent of Big Brother, from George Orwell’s 1984.
Schiff’s defenders dismiss such concerns, saying the only information thus obtained was the time, duration, and date of these calls and not actual content. But the very ambiguity from this partial record is now used to support all sorts of hypothetical possibilities, such as the assertion that Giuliani had called a number “associated with OMB” — even though lots of other organizations within the Executive Office of the president use the 395 prefix.
It’s really scary to think that this sort of thing has not only been going on for some time, but proudly so.
Interestingly, the same sort of privacy invasion occurred — by direct order of President Johnson — in the waning days of the 1968 campaign. Here is an excerpt of the sworn testimony of FBI liaison agent Cartha “Deke” DeLoach before the Church Committee in 1976:
Sen. Philip Hart (D-Mich.): Now, the incident I had in mind on another public figure, Spiro Agnew. A request was made to get telephone records of candidate Agnew. What happened to that request?
Mr. DeLoach: I received a call from Mr. James Jones, who was the top assistant to the President at the time, Senator, to the best of my recollection, late one evening, and he indicated the President wanted information concerning either Mr. Nixon or Mr. Agnew, insofar as toll calls being made from Albuquerque, New Mexico were concerned. I told Mr. Jones I felt this was not a thing to do, particularly at this time of night, and while we would try to comply with the President’s specific request, we would not do it that night. The President then called me personally in my office late that night and indicated that, did he understand my refusal to Mr. Jones correctly, and I said, yes, he did. I said, I thought that it would be wrong for us to try to obtain such information that late at night. The President then proceeded to tell me that he was the Commander in Chief and that when he needed information of that nature, he should get it. However, the conversation ensued that I reiterated my objections to it, and the President indicated all right, try to get it the following day. The Domestic Intelligence Division did get in touch with Albuquerque, and did obtain toll call slips. Now, this was no electronic surveillance, Senator. This was merely a matter of going to the telephone company and getting the results of toll calls made from a certain number several days prior to that to Washington, D.C. I believe there were five all total and this has been made a matter of record in FBI files.
Hart: I thought I was throwing you a slow ball. I thought that was a case where you did reject the request. Apparently, the rejection hinged on, it is too late at night, we’ll do it in the morning.
DeLoach: You’re absolutely right, Senator.
With Schiff being so proud of his handiwork that he included specific reference to it in his committee’s report, one can only hope for further investigation and public disclosure. The respective CEOs of AT&T and Verizon, for example, might appropriately be called before the Senate Judiciary Committee to detail any and all such requests that they have received by any congressional committee since Trump’s election, along with how and why they responded, apparently without objection of any sort.
There is even more basis for the good chairman himself to be called as a witness in any Senate impeachment trial. Let us learn all we can about the rationale for one or more such secret subpoenas.
Talk about the need to drain the swamp. This is a prime example.
Geoff Shepard came to D.C. as a White House Fellow right after graduation from Harvard Law School and spent five years on Nixon’s White House staff, including serving as deputy counsel on his Watergate defense team. See more on his website: www.geoffshepard.com.