The U.S. Capitol police have reportedly been secretly surveilling members of Congress and their staff, as well as constituents and supporters who come to visit their offices.
Politico first reported Monday, based on the accounts of three individuals familiar with the matter, that the Capitol Police have been monitoring congressional staffers and visitors. The practice has reportedly been ongoing since crowds of demonstrators and rioters stormed the Capitol last year on Jan. 6.
The new surveillance practices reportedly came about after former Department of Homeland Security official Julie Farnam was brought on to help run the part of the Intelligence and Interagency Coordination Division for the Capitol Police
A document provided to Politico, Farnam told analysts to run “background checks” on people lawmakers planned to meet, including their donors and associates. If staff were listed as meeting attendees, Capitol Police intelligence analysts were also asked to check the staffers social media accounts.
Analysts were also directed to investigate who owns the various buildings where members of Congress would hold meetings. Some analysts were specifically tasked with searching tax and real estate records to determine the ownership of properties lawmakers visited. In one case, the unit scrutinized a meeting that Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) held with donors in a private home.
“These reports are incredibly disturbing,” Scott spokesperson McKinley Lewis told Politico. “It is unthinkable that any government entity would conduct secret investigations to build political dossiers on private Americans. The American people deserve to know what Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi knew and directed, and when. Senator Scott believes the Senate Rules Committee should immediately investigate.”
One source told Politico that several Capitol Police intelligence analysts have already reported the practice to the department’s inspector general.
“Whatever they think that sounds like for security, it sounds dangerously close — if not already over the line — to spying on members of Congress, their staff, their constituents and their supporters,” Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), told Politico.
“Anybody involved with implementing this without making it known to the actual members of Congress should resign or be fired immediately,” Armstrong said. “And I’m not big on calling for resignations.”
Armstrong discussed the reported surveillance practices with Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Tuesday night.
“Capitol Hill Police are spying on elected members of Congress, their staff, and private citizens,” Carlson tweeted.
Armstrong, a former criminal defense attorney, told Carlson the Capitol Police are gathering “all kinds of information” on constituents, supporters and donors.
Carlson said his Fox program had reached out to Capitol Police Sergeant at Arms William Walker about the alleged secretive surveillance practice, but said Walker denied it.
In a statement to Politico, Capitol Police said it searches for public information about people meeting with lawmakers and said it coordinates the work with members’ offices.
Scott’s staff told Politico that while Capitol Police provide some information about their surveillance practices, lawmakers may not be aware of the scope of those practices.
Armstrong said he doesn’t know of any members of Congress who have been told about the “very, very bad” practice. Armstrong told Carlson he didn’t know about the depth of the alleged secret surveillance practice until recently.
“I think it’s important to recognize that they’re doing this and secret surveillance on American citizens without probable cause is never okay,” Armstrong said.
“It’s surely not being done for security reasons,” he continued. “If it was done for security reasons they wouldn’t be worried about casting us in a negative light and they’d be coordinating with our offices.”
Rachel Levinson-Waldman, the deputy director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice, told Politico the Capitol Police’s surveillance practices are “of questionable legality,” adding that federal law protects against “collecting and keeping of data about people without a specified and authorized purpose.”