Three weeks ago, ThinkProgress released an exclusive investigation into the surreptitious dirty tricks campaign orchestrated by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s lobbyists, a scandal now known as ChamberLeaks. Leaked emails showed that the Chamber hired lobbying firm Hunton & Williams, who then solicited three private security firms to investigate and smear the Chamber’s political opponents, including ThinkProgress, the labor coalition Change to Win, the SEIU, US Chamber Watch, and StopTheChamber.com. Their tactics included creating a “false document” and a “fake insider persona” to infiltrate and discredit adversaries. The private security firms — HBGary Federal, Palantir, and Berico Technologies (collectively called Team Themis) — also proposed targeting opponents’ families, including circulating photos of their children, addresses, places of worship, and other personal information.
After the plot was exposed, the Chamber denied any involvement or knowledge of the plan. However, as ThinkProgress documented, a plethora of emails contradict their denials.
Now that the severity of the plot has come into focus, Congress may soon get involved. Today, 20 House Democrats, led by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), called for an investigation into the ChamberLeaks scandal, noting that Hunton & Williams appear to have orchestrated “a ‘dirty-tricks’ campaign that included possible illegal actions against citizens engaged in free speech.” Johnson wants to examine whether these “subversive techniques” which were discussed in the leaked emails were “developed at U.S. government expense to target terrorists and other security threats.”
Indeed, ThinkProgress’ report detailed how the tactics revealed in this plot are “typically reserved for use against terrorist groups.” After all, Johnson notes, “it is deeply troubling to think that tactics developed for use against terrorists may have been unleashed against American citizens.”
The letter, which is being sent to the chairmen of four relevant House Committees – Oversight and Government Reform, Judiciary, Armed Services, and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence – notes that beyond the political ramifications of the Chamber’s lobbying firm targeting opponents, federal crimes may have been committed as well:
Given evidence of their proposal to infiltrate computer systems, discredit and disrupt the operations of U.S. advocacy groups, Team Themis and Hunton and Williams may have conspired to carry out or previously carried out actions in violation of federal law, including:
• Forgery under 10 USC §923
• Mail and Wire Fraud under 18 USC §1341 and 18 USC §1343
• Fraud and Related Activity in Connection with Computers 18 USC §1030
The letter concludes by stating that the leaked emails and documents “provide a window into a deeply concerning set of circumstances, but not all of the facts are known. We believe it is therefore incumbent upon the Committee to investigate this matter thoroughly and with the utmost urgency.”
ThinkProgress reached out to Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Mike Rogers (R-MI), and Howard McKeon (R-CA), chairmen of the relevant committees, for comments on the proposed investigation. We will post an update if they respond.
View a timeline of the ChamberLeaks scandal composed by the Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson here.
Full text of the letter, after the jump.