Judicial Watch: State Dept Records Show US Embassy in Ukraine Monitored Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Donald Trump Jr., Rudy Giuliani, Journalists and other U.S. Citizens in Potential Violation of Federal Law
(Washington, DC) Judicial Watch announced today that it received 372 pages of records from the U.S. Department of State that confirm prior Judicial Watch reporting that the Ukraine Embassy under then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch monitored, in potential violation of law, Donald Trump, Jr. Rudy Giuliani, and major journalists on Twitter on their commentary on Ukraine, “Biden-Burisma 2020,” and George Soros.
The documents list the targeted persons as Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Rudy Giuliani, Dan Bongino, Sebastian Gorka, John Solomon, Jack Posobiec, Ryan Saavedra, Sara A Carter, Donald Trump Jr., Michael McFaul, Lou Dobbs and Pamela Gellar. The search terms that were flagged to be monitored by State Department officials on social media included Yovanovitch, Ukraine Ambassador, Ukrainian Ambassador, Ukraine Soros, Clinton campaign, and Biden-Burisma.
The emails show that Yovanovitch was aware of the social media monitoring program.
Additionally, a State Department contractor warned his colleagues that their monitoring of private citizens was potentially in violation of the Privacy Act of 1974.
“These new documents confirm Deep State officials at the Ukraine Embassy seemed to set up an enemies list to help illicitly monitor and report on the social media postings of President Trump’s family and lawyer, as well as journalists,” stated Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The State Department hid these smoking gun documents for months.”
The records were produced to Judicial Watch in a January 2020 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed after the State Department failed to respond to an October 2019 FOIA request for records tied to the alleged monitoring of President Trump’s family, lawyer, and journalists, as ordered by US Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:20-cv-00124). In October 2019, Judicial Watch began its investigation into the alleged monitoring, via CrowdTangle and other means, of journalists and persons linked to President Trump. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch is alleged to have ordered State Department entities to conduct the monitoring:
This is not an obscure rule, everyone in public diplomacy or public affairs knows they can’t make lists and monitor U.S. citizens unless there is a major national security reason,” according to a senior State Department official. If the illicit operation occurred, it seems to indicate a clear political bias against the president and his supporters. Yovanovitch, a career diplomat who has also led American embassies in Kyrgyzstan and Armenia, was appointed ambassador to Ukraine by Obama in 2016. She was recalled by the State Department in May and remains a State Department employee in Washington D.C.
An email exchange on March 27, 2019, titled “monitoring developing U.S. social media narratives on Ukraine” concerns the monitoring of major conservative social media and TV commentators on their commentary on Ukraine, as well as Marie Yovanovitch and George Soros’ involvement in Ukraine and the Clinton Campaign. The persons involved in the discussion include then-Ambassador to the Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch; former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George P. Kent; a digital media associate EUR/PD from the Kenjya-Trusant Group, the public diplomacy desk officer for Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus; and other redacted State Department officials.
In the discussion, a redacted State Department official writes:
Thanks very much for your notes. He English-language Twitter search phrases we’re currently using for this issue are:
Yovanovich (common misspelling)
We are also monitoring the tweets of roughly 10 high-profile U.S.-based social media users (verified accounts with large numbers of followers) who have already commented on this particular issue before, either on social media or television, to see if they have posted something new relevant to this issue that does not directly align with our search terms.
Happy to pass along that list of Twitter users if DC wishes, but even just keeping an eye on the search terms above during DC afternoon business hours would be a huge help so that Kyiv/Washington team members don’t miss out on new online narratives that are likely to generate new media inquiries.
I’m going to send around one more evening batch of social media content to Desk and Post colleagues in a few minutes on this topic.
Kent writes: “key thing is to get up to ramming speed from the get go.”
Other actual or proposed search terms include “Clinton campaign” and “Biden Burisma.” A redacted State Department Official writes on March 29:
We appreciate the crowd Tangle reports you have sent us. Can you confirm this tool in tracking content from the full list of influential social media users that [redacted] flagged (which included George’s suggestions as well)? Does this also track their posts if it does not include out key work “Ukraine?” We have seen some of these people comment obliquely without using the key words.
We appreciate the RSS suggestion, but we already have an effective automated search tool
- US Diplomats in Kyiv Yovanovitch and Kent + NABU;
- Clinton campaign and Manafort 2016;
- Biden-Burisma 2020;
- Soros (ANTAC)”
On March 29, 2019, an email to Kent summarizing the monitoring activity shows that reports were set up at least twice a day. A redacted official writes to Kent: “I will have it set to recap at noon and 5pm. Will also try to have a separate report for you to provide info from the past 12 hours.
On May 15, 2019, a redacted Digital Media Associate for EUR/PD Keniya-Trusant Group warns the State Department of legal issues of monitoring private citizens:
Going to chime in here – so regarding the influencers, there are some legal implications of making a list of Facebook influencers of Twitter influencers since they are technically private citizens (even though they’re publicly on the internet) and we cannot compile them into a list and monitor what they are saying using a third-party application without their knowledge. To see what they’re saying, you unfortunately need to use the old school way and manually go to their feeds and view that way. Cumbersome but it’s in compliance with the Privacy Act of 1974.
Regarding automated emails, I’m not sure if you can set up feedback reports, I’ll look into that for you.
And on Instagram, shouldn’t be a problem to add the IG account. We would just need to create it as a separate list, which can then be added into the display.
I can take care of that for you if you’d like! On hashtags and influencers, I don’t believe CT has that capability unfortunately.
An email dated May 15, 2019, related to the use of CrowdTangle to monitor social media in Bosnia and Herzegovina indicates that the prohibition on monitoring US persons was understood:
[Redacted] – thank you so much. And now [sic] worries, I thought I have heard somewhere that that doesn’t apply to non-U.S. citizens, but wasn’t 100% sure, so thank you again for checking that for us.
I just went to our live display page and I don’t have any possibility of changing anything on it. The only option it’s giving me is to switch to Dark Interface <smile emoji>
Is there a way for someone to guide me through the process of adding the IG to our live display, and also, how to create the list adding the influencers we already know, which are not U.S.
Later in the day, the redacted official in this chain writes: “Also, I’d like to correct something I said previously. Turns out I was incorrect on the influencers list. You can create lists of them so long as they are not U.S. Citizens. Happy to assist with that if you need and my apologies for giving you incorrect information.”
On March 27, 2019, at 3:50 pm a redacted public diplomacy desk officer writes:
Both [redacted] and I have talked with our fantastic social media team in our PD shop and they are familiarizing the team with our existing tools that will give them the reports they want and set this all up for them.
I’m happy to discuss more about these tools at our next meeting too.
This should greatly improve their ability to track and monitor stories/tweet, etc as it’s all automated these days.
At 9:11 pm, a digital media associate from the Kenjya-Trusant Group writes:
Great! Thanks so much. So I set up a Hootsuite Dashboard (which I can share with the team) and will have CrowdTangle searches set up that I can have sent to your inbox if you’d like.
Just let me know.
At 2:26 pm an email with the sender and recipients’ names reacted includes a list of individuals whose Twitter accounts were to be monitored, including the president’s s son and his personal attorney:
Thank you! Below are some of the Twitter users with large followings whom we’ve seen tweeting on (and/or discussing on TV) Ukraine related issues over the past several days. They all have verified Twitter accounts that should be pretty easy to spot.
John Solomon (of the Hill)
Sara A Carter
Donald Trump Jr.
Thanks again very much,
At 8:08 pm on March 27 a Kenjya-Trusant Group member asks: “Would you be able to add those high-profile usernames with us too? Would be good to have as I set things up.”
On March 28, 2019, a redacted State Department official states, “P.s. Here is a sample of the monitoring report for U.S. social media (scroll down for specific tweets and photos). Make sure to click the link at the top to show photos”
A redacted State Department official emails a group of officials including Kent saying:
First I want to assure everyone that we understand the strain Embassy Kyiv and Ambassador for Yovanovitch are under. We definitely want to support Post and the EUR Front Office’s needs at this time. Full stop.”
The new records include an email written on March 28, 2019, with the subject line “Ukraine Twitter Report” features a “Rolling Two-Hour Twitter Digest” with the search “Most Recent Tweets in Yovanovitch, Yovanovich, Ukraine Ambassador, Ukranian Ambassador, Ukraine Soros (Saved Search)” The report includes tweets by numerous U.S. persons, including Donald Trump Jr., Dan Bongino, Laura Ingraham, John Solomon, Sara Carter, Sean Hannity, Rudy Giuliani, and others. Many of the tweets have nothing to do with Ukraine and pertain to U.S. politics.
On March 29, 2019, Kent clarifies that the monitoring should focus on negative attacks on the work of the Department or Embassy and adds specific individuals who should be monitored:
I would suggest the direct recipient social media audience here includes [redacted] and me in the front office, for starters, as well as the desk. The attaboy (or attagirl) tweets in support of what we are doing are less of an issue to track, frankly, than the attacks…
The list of tweeters has many of the heavy hitting amplifiers we need to be aware of; Sara Carter should be added, since she often acts as an amplifying vanguard for issues that then get picked up on Hannity. Giuliani too.”
A redacted person responds to Kent: “Happy to add more people once we get the feed set up correctly. We will add Sara Carter and Guiliani to the list for monitoring.”
While leaving out the use of CrowdTangle, an April 1, 2019, email with all addressees names redacted has the subject line “Ukraine Twitter Report” and says, “Thank you so very much for alerting everyone to this issue. We appreciate you shutting down the automated report. [Redacted] We do not have, and have not had, any separate automated monitoring tools tracking specific individuals. We will continue to follow Ukraine-related news and commentary via simple internet searches.”
Included in the new documents are a CrowdTangle virtual training manual and a guide from CrowdTangle as to what “social listening” is.
On September 18, 2019, CrowdTangle, which had recently been acquired by Facebook, removed access to the platform “all Department users” effective October 2019.
On October 10, 2019, Congressman Devin Nunes told Sean Hannity on his program that, “What I’ve heard is that there were strange requests, irregular requests to monitor not just one journalist, but multiple journalists…” Hannity followed this statement by adding, multiple sources also told him that they, “believe there is evidence that government resources were used to monitor communications” of U.S. journalists and that Yovanovitch may have been involved. Yovanovitch was questioned on the issue during the impeachment proceeding in the House and seemed to deny any illegal monitoring took place.
In November 2019, Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit against the State Department seeking documents related to a reported “untouchables list” given in late 2016 by Yovanovitch to Ukraine Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko. Lutsenko told The New York Times that Yovanovitch “pressed him not to prosecute anti-corruption activists.” Lutsenko reportedly said earlier the do-not-prosecute list included a founder of the Ukraine group Anti-Corruption Action Centre (AntAC), which was funded by Soros foundations and the U.S. federal government, and two members of the Ukrainian Parliament who vocally supported the Soros group’s agenda.