Appeals Court Hearing: Pelosi/Schiff Argue Congress Can Secretly Subpoena Phone Records of Citizens
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch today released a transcript of the March 24 oral argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit challenging a lower court ruling upholding the secrecy of controversial secretly-issued congressional subpoenas for phone records by Rep. Adam Schiff, Chairman of the U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, relating to the impeachment of President Trump. The appeals court hearing came after a lower court ruling in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, Judicial Watch v. v Adam Schiff and U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (No. 1:19-03790)), requesting subpoenas issued by the Committee on or about September 30, 2019.
The Judicial Watch lawsuit sought the controversial impeachment-related subpoenas for phone records, including those of Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s lawyer. Schiff and the Committee are being represented by the Office of General Counsel for the House of Representatives.
The phone records led to the publication of the private phone records of Giuliani, Congressman Devin Nunes, journalist John Solomon, Trump attorney Jay Sekulow, attorney Victoria Toensing, and other American citizens.
Schiff and the Committee claim “sovereign immunity;” “Speech or Debate Clause” privilege; immunity from FOIA and transparency law; that the records are secret; and that Judicial Watch and public do not need to see them. Judicial Watch is appealing a lower court decision suggested that Schiff and the House have “absolute” immunity from inquiries about the subpoenas.
Judicial Watch senior attorney James Peterson argued to the three-judge panel:
This case is about shedding light on unprecedented and illegitimate congressional subpoenas. The extraordinary subpoenas at issue represent a supposedly unlimited government surveillance power and an unlimited ability by Congress to, at their whim, to invade the privacy of any American.
Congressman Schiff secretly subpoenaed the phone records of a number of private citizens from telephone companies. He did not provide notice to these individuals in advance that their phone records were being sought. He did not subpoena the phone records directly from the citizens. Instead, he subpoenaed the phone companies for the records, preventing any opportunity for the private citizens to seek court review, as would happen in any other case in where the government is seeking this kind of information about any citizen.
In response to a House attorney’s argument that the materials be kept secret to protect the privacy of the targets of the subpoenas, one of the appellate judges remarked:
Well, I do think it’s, if not ironic, noteworthy that one of the interests you’ve just put forward is the invasion of privacy when the whole claim of Judicial Watch is that this Committee invaded the privacy of private citizens in the first place.
“The Pelosi/Schiff House asserts it has an unlimited government surveillance power and an unlimited ability to invade the privacy of any American with zero accountability and transparency,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The courts should reject Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi’s corrupt cover-up of the unconstitutional subpoenas that abused the civil rights of then-President Trump, Rudy Giuliani, journalists and other American citizens.”