Tea Party Group Calls for Investigation Into Leaks, Unmasking

'There are clearly rogue government officials, with high-level clearances, engaging in criminal activity involving classified information.'

CEO of Tea Party Patriots Jenny Beth Martin / Getty Images
May 24, 2017

The cofounder of the largest Tea Party group is trying to ratchet up pressure on the House and Senate intelligence committees to investigate illegal Trump administration leaks and the Obama administration's unmasking of U.S. officials and other citizens during the presidential campaign and transition.

Jenny Beth Martin, the cofounder of the Tea Party Patriots, sent a letter on Wednesday to the leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees pressing them to investigate the illegal release of classified information to the media and the unmasking of American citizens as part of their wide-ranging probe into alleged Russian interference and meddling in the last presidential election.

"I write as president of an organization with over 2 million, an organization that has directly felt the heavy hand of persecution by the very government we support with our taxes," she wrote in the letter. "Our concern is that your investigation's emphasis and focus on our government, again illegally interfering in the lives of law-abiding citizens, will go unaddressed with no accountability."

If the GOP-led committees in Congress ignore such allegations of abuse, it would be "absolutely unacceptable in the world's leading democracy, to which people around the globe look hopefully for leadership on issues of government accountability," she said.

The Tea Party Patriots were among hundreds of conservative organizations the IRS targeted for intrusive scrutiny during the Obama administration. The IRS forced the group to wait more than three years to receive its tax-exempt status.

Martin sent the letter to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R., N.C.) and the ranking Democrat, Mark Warner (D., Va.), as well as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R., Calif.) and that committee's ranking member, Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.).

"There are clearly rogue government officials, with high-level clearances, engaging in criminal activity involving classified information. Where are the voices and concerns about this from you and your colleagues? The silence is deafening and eerily reminiscent to us," she said.

The line was a reference to multiple Congressional investigations during President Barack Obama's time in office into IRS targeting of conservative groups.

So far only Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) has pursued the unmasking issue in a public hearing, Martin said. She recalled Graham’s questioning of former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates two weeks ago. He asked both: "How did the conversation between the Russian ambassador and Mr. Flynn make it to the Washington Post?"

"I don't know the answer to that," Clapper answered.

"Nor do I know the answer to that," Yates followed.

Later during the hearing, Graham said "it seems pretty obvious to me that political people could, in the right position, unmask people who have political differences, who end up talking to foreign agents and use it for political purposes. That, to me is very serious."

There are only a few high-level officials in the Obama administration who had the authority to unmask these private citizens, and lawmakers have an obligation to expose who is leaking classified information to the media so that they can be brought to justice, she said.

"Every day that passes without public, government accountability for these actions only further darkens the lens of cynicism and contempt through which the American people view Washington," she wrote, urging the key group of lawmakers to set full committee hearings dates to examine the unmasking and media leaks that continue to take place.

Earlier Wednesday, news broke that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court rebuked the Obama administration in late October. Circa reported that the court found that the officials had "violated the safeguards Obama and his intelligence chiefs vowed to follow in 2011."

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.) on Wednesday said government surveillance programs won’t receive the necessary congressional reauthorization for them to continue unless officials answer questions about who in the intelligence community unmasked certain individuals.

Correction: This piece has been updated with the correct chair of the House Intelligence Committee.