Officials at the United States Embassy in Kyiv may have broken federal law by launching an effort to monitor the social media accounts of 13 prominent Americans at the start of the Ukraine scandal in 2019, newly released State Department memos show.
According to a Just the News report by journalist John Solomon — who worked for The Hill at the time and was among the individuals monitored — the memos were made public Tuesday under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the conservative watchdog Judicial Watch.
Other individuals listed as targets for monitoring in the memos included President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.; the president’s personal attorney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani; Fox News hosts Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Lou Dobbs; conservative political commentator Dan Bongino; and Daily Wire reporter Ryan Saavedra.
The memos show that Marie Yovanovitch, U.S. ambassador in Ukraine at the time, along with former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, were aware of the monitoring efforts.
The officials apparently used CrowdTangle, a popular social media monitoring product, to round up the accounts and log online posts about Yovanovitch, Hunter Biden, nefarious Ukrainian gas company Burisma, and liberal megadonor George Soros.
Here’s more from Solomon’s report:
“Key thing is to get up to ramming speed from the get go,” Kent wrote in a March 27, 2019 email that discussed the social media monitoring efforts, which appear to have been prompted by early stories about the embassy’s activities with Ukrainian prosecutors and the Bidens at The Hill newspaper (written by this reporter) and on Fox News.
The same day, Yovanovitch received an email updating her on the social media monitoring.
“Thanks Ambassador — I just wanted you to be aware as we are really trying to help them and recognize how hard everyone is working in this especially trying time,” an official whose name was redacted wrote Yovanovitch. “The good news is our social media team back here is now helping to provide them with the reports they want when Kyiv is asleep/offline — through existing PD tools — so this should greatly help.”
By April 1, 2019, the embassy appears to have been instructed to cease the social media monitoring by officials in Washington.
“Thank you so very much for alerting everyone to this issue. We appreciate you shutting down the automated report,” an email entitled “Ukraine Twitter report” read.
Then in May, a digital media associate for EUR/PD Keniya-Trusant Group told the embassy officials that they would “unfortunately” need to go about monitoring social media posts the “old school way” so as to not violate a little thing called the Privacy Act of 1974.
“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 associate, whose name was redacted, wrote in an email. “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 responded Tuesday to the release of the memos, arguing they prove that embassy officials essentially “set up an enemies list” for illicit monitoring.