GOP lawmakers call for investigation into ‘unauthorized’ release of their Air Force records
The DOJ declined to comment. Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said “virtually all” of the 11 unapproved releases were made to the same third party “who posed as a background investigator seeking service records for of employment”.
The revelation follows outcry over the release of Indiana House GOP nominee Jennifer-Ruth Green’s military records after POLITICO reported on it in October. And it promises to heighten Republicans’ already keen interest in investigating whether other sitting members of Congress were affected – as well as the role a Democratic-linked research firm played in the episode.
The Air Force launched its audit after Green’s records were released, according to Stefanek.
The Feb. 7 letter Bacon received from the Air Force names Abraham Payton of research firm Due Diligence LLC as the person who “inappropriately requested copies of your military personnel records for the stated purpose of employment and benefits,” adding that Payton already had Bacon’s social security number. Payton is a former research director for the Democratic political group American Bridge.
Both Bacon and Nunn are calling for an investigation into whether research for political opposition has turned into illegal activity.
“I understand that the evidence has been turned over to the Department of Justice and I expect that those who break the law will be prosecuted,” Bacon said in a statement to POLITICO. “It was more than just ‘dirty tricks’ by Democratic operatives, but likely violations of the law.”
Nunn also suggested that disclosing his records amounted to criminal activity.
“The recent targeting of the military personnel records of members of Congress [and] the breach of sensitive data… taken by political hacks is not just a breach of public trust – it is criminal,” he said in a statement.
how it started
Bacon said the Air Force began looking into the matter in response to what happened to Green, who lost a November battlefield district race to Rep. Frank Mrvan (D -ind.).
The Air Force has publicly acknowledged the unauthorized disclosure of Green’s records to “a third party,” though it did not say whether that person was the same person who provided them to POLITICO during the campaign.
POLITICO was told by the person who gave it Green’s military records that they were obtained through a public records request. POLITICO reviewed the request for the recordings made by a third party, which requested a “publicly publishable/redacted copy of the OMPF [Official Military Personnel File] in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act statutes. The requester indicated that the subject matter of the request was “benefits”, “employment” and “other”.
POLITICO also reviewed the letter sent in response to the plaintiff. A military employee responded with a password-protected version of the file with limited redactions. After the release, the Air Force said it erred in releasing the records and launched an investigation.
Stefanek, the Air Force spokesman, said in an October statement that a “preliminary” investigation revealed that “Green’s service record was disclosed to a third party by a subordinate who was not had not followed the proper procedures and obtained the required consent”.
After POLITICO’s initial report of Green’s Air Force records, Green responded that the material was obtained “illegally.” Her records referenced a sexual assault she had suffered while on duty.
Green blamed Mrvan and his allies for the release. Mrvan’s campaign denied any involvement, and a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee told Fox News at the time that “we would never use anyone’s sexual assault experience against them. “.
Greens spokesman Kevin Hansberger said in a statement last week that the release of his personal records “and other Republicans is reprehensible and illegal.”
“There must be full transparency of the investigation and its findings. Those responsible for these unlawful acts should face criminal charges and be held accountable for their actions,” Hansberger added.
Hansberger reiterated Green’s earlier argument that political opponents were behind the release of his records, saying the incident shows Democrats “will do whatever it takes, even breaking the law, to protect their interests”.
The DCCC did not return a request for comment on the receipt and use of materials provided by the due diligence group during the 2022 midterm. According to Federal Election Commission records, the branch of the House Democratic campaign paid just over $110,000 for due diligence between January 2021 and December 2022.
Due Diligence’s website says it uses “public records research to provide our clients with the knowledge and information needed to make strategic decisions.”
It’s unclear whether Payton and Due Diligence were the only third-party entities that searched the service records.
Stefanek, the Air Force spokesman, said in response to written questions: “Virtually all of the unauthorized disclosures were in response to a third party posing as a background investigator seeking service records for through a process commonly used by other federal agencies to conduct employee background checks.
Due Diligence did not respond to requests for comment. Payton, whom POLITICO attempted to reach at an email address linked to Due Diligence, did not respond to a request for comment.
Tracking the extent of releases
The Republican chairmen of the House Oversight and Armed Services Committees publicly revealed last week that the Air Force improperly disclosed the records of 11 people to “a private research firm that allegedly presented itself as a false day in order to gain access”. This GOP letter also identified Due Diligence as the company that obtained Green’s records.
Armed Services Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and Oversight Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) asked Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in their letter last week for the full list of those affected by inappropriate disclosures of records.
The House GOP duo also demanded details of any actions — “administrative or punitive” — taken against those involved in the unauthorized release, and whether any criminal referrals have occurred regarding it.
“This news follows an earlier admission by the Air Force of inappropriately releasing the [military personnel files] from former Republican congressional candidate Jennifer-Ruth Green to the same research firm, Due Diligence Group,” Rogers and Comer wrote. “This revelation served to re-victimize a military member by disclosing details of his sexual assault.”
The House GOP committee chairs only mentioned due diligence in their letter, not Payton. Additionally, Nunn provided no further information regarding the notification he received of the unauthorized broadcast.
Rogers and Comer asked the Pentagon chief to provide more information by Feb. 27, saying “it’s critical that the men and women of the armed forces have confidence in their leaders’ ability to protect data. personal information from inappropriate disclosure”.
POLITICO reached out to more than a dozen House Republican lawmakers and 2,022 candidates who served in the Air Force to ask if the military informed them of an authorized disclosure similar to those experienced by Green, Bacon and Nunn. None answered in the affirmative.
The record releases took place between October 2021 and October 2022, according to Air Force spokesman Stefanek.
“Department of the Air Force employees failed to follow proper procedures requiring the consenting member’s signature for release of information. There was no evidence of political motivation or malicious intent on the part of any employee,” Stefanek wrote.
She added that “the Air Force takes full responsibility for the release of personally identifiable information from these individuals. Records disclosure procedures have been improved by raising the level of approval for disclosure of information to third parties and by conducting intensive training for staff handling records requests.
The letter Bacon received from the Texas-based Air Force Personnel Center says its investigation revealed “no criminal action or malicious intent” on the part of the military employee who leaked his information.
Bacon, however, is pushing for more information on whether the DCCC or the House Democratic majority super PAC played a role in the military releasing the information.
House Majority PAC said it had no relationship with Due Diligence during the 2022 campaign cycle and did not use the firm’s work in any activity on the Green-Mrvan race.