State Department records made public on Sept. 1 reveal that in the spring of 2019, U.S. diplomats at the embassy in Kyiv monitored the social media accounts of 13 people, including journalists and a member of President Donald Trump’s family, for posts about Ukraine without their knowledge.
The records (pdf), obtained by conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, show that the officials targeted the Twitter accounts of Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, Fox News’s Lou Dobbs, the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, former Secret Service agent Dan Bongino, military and intelligence analyst Sebastian Gorka, investigative journalist John Solomon, One America News’s Jack Posobiec, The Daily Wire’s Ryan Saavedra, Fox News contributor Sara A. Carter, the president’s eldest son Donald Trump Jr., U.S. Ambassador to Russia under the Obama administration Michael McFaul, and American activist Pamela Gellar.
Ukraine’s top prosecutor had just opened an investigation at the time into whether the country’s law enforcement illegally leaked information in order to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election in favor of Hillary Clinton.
The 13 accounts were monitored using CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned social media analytics company, for terms including; Yovanovitch [former U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch], Ukraine Ambassador, Ukrainian Ambassador, Ukraine Soros, Clinton campaign, and Biden-Burisma, the documents show.
According to internal emails made public by the watchdog group, Yovanovitch and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent were aware of the monitoring efforts. Yovanovitch was dismissed from her diplomatic post in May 2017 by Trump.
The records, which were obtained in a January 2020 FOIA lawsuit, show that a contractor at the U.S. Department of State also warned his colleagues that they could be breaching privacy laws with their monitoring of the accounts of the 13 Americans.
“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,” the contractor wrote in an email in May 2019. “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.”
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement that the 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. The State Department hid these smoking gun documents for months.”
“This was an enemies list,” Solomon told Fox News’s “Hannity,” noting that the targeted individuals had previously raised questions about Russia and the conduct of “things like Joe Biden.”
“The embassy was monitoring us, not for national security reasons, but for reasons about the reputations of people in the past administration, the Obama-Biden-[Hillary] Clinton administration,” the investigative journalist said.
Solomon said he has “grave concern” and believes other communications may also have been monitored based on the information he saw in the newly released documents. He called on the ODNI and the State Department to “come forward and let the American people know” if this was the case.
“The State Department and the embassy was told that these actions violated the Privacy Act [of 1974] of the 13 Americans whose accounts were monitored and the real question now is, is this the only thing they did?” he added.
The State Department didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.