WASHINGTON — At least three personnel files improperly released by the Air Force in the lead-up to last year’s midterm elections belonged to Republican House candidates, the result of an Democrat-funded investigative firm’s effort that the targeted lawmakers say went beyond dirty politics — and was criminal.
The chairs of the Republican-led House Oversight and Armed Services committees said in a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last week that an internal Air Force audit had showed 11 files were improperly disclosed to Due Diligence Group, LLC between October 2021 and December 2022.
Reps. James Comer (R-Ky.) and Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said the firm had “allegedly misrepresented itself in order to obtain access to the personnel records without authorization or consent.”
“This conduct by the Air Force is, at a minimum, unacceptable,” they wrote. “The conduct by the research firm is quite possibly criminal.”
Among the 11 were Reps. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) and Zach Nunn (R-Iowa), their offices said. A third was former House GOP candidate Jennifer-Ruth Green, whose case triggered the audit after an Oct. 7 Politico story included details from her DDG-obtained Air Force personnel record — most notably, information about a sexual assault she suffered in Iraq.
At the time, Green accused her opponent, Rep. Frank Mrvan (D-Ind.), of obtaining the information through a third party — now known to have been DDG — and “fishing” it out to news outlets who would use her record against her. Politico in October told The Post the file was “obtained by a public record request and provided to Politico by a source.”
Though DDG used public records channels to obtain the Republican candidates’ information, the group did so under false pretenses, according to Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek.
“Virtually all unauthorized disclosures were in response to a third-party seeking service records for employment or benefit purposes through a process commonly used by other federal agencies to conduct employee background checks,” she said. “In some cases, personally identifiable information, such as social security numbers, was included on records request forms.
While DDG does not list political affiliations on its website, it received nearly $164,000 from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from Aug. 2021 to 2022, according to Federal Election Commission records. The funds came in 20 separate payments for services ranging from “research consulting” to “publications/subscriptions.”
The DCCC also gave DDG roughly $65,000 in 35 payments for “generic committee research materials” and “generic strategic/political consultant” services, according to FEC records.
Now, Bacon is calling for “an official investigation” into the case and expects “anyone who broke the law to be prosecuted,” he said in a statement to The Post.
“This isn’t just dirty politics, but likely a violation of the law,” Bacon said. “Knowing that this third party, paid by the Dem[ocratic] Campaign Congressional Committee, was able to obtain my social security number and fraudulently use it to obtain my military records is concerning not only for myself and the other ten affected but to every single veteran.”
The Armed Services Committee is giving Austin until Feb. 27 to provide a list of all service members-turned-political candidates whose personnel records were released without authorization between Jan. 1, 2021, to Jan. 3, 2023, according to its letter.
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In Bacon’s case, the Air Force received “multiple requests” for his records “from Abraham Payton, background investigation analysts with Due Diligence Group, LLC” on Nov. 9, 2021, Air Force Personnel Center commander Maj. Gen. Troy Dunn told Bacon in a Feb. 7 letter.
“Although Mr. Payton was already in possession of your social security number at the time of his request, the records branch still released your personal identifiable information on Nov. 12, 2021 without your authorization, which is protected under the Privacy Act of 1974,” Dunn said, adding that Payton had “inappropriately requested copies of your military personnel records for the stated purpose of employment and benefits.”
DDG did not immediately respond to the Post’s request for comment. It is unclear how it obtained the private information it used in the Air Force requests.
The firm, which claims on its website to have “expertise in FOIA and local public record laws,” says it specializes in using “public records research to provide our clients with the knowledge and insights needed to drive strategic decision making.”
Like Bacon’s requester, Nunn’s records were also obtained “as the result of a targeted breach resulting from forged documents containing stolen personal information,” a source close to the congressman told The Post.
“The recent targeting of Members of Congress’s personnel military records, the breach of sensitive data, and the duplicitous forgery taken by political hacks isn’t only a violation of public trust — it’s criminal,” Nunn told The Post in a statement. “As a country, we should be supporting veterans who want to continue their service instead of harassing and intimidating them.”
“I strongly support bipartisan efforts being undertaken by the House Armed Services Committee to protect our service members and hold criminal actors accountable,” he added.
In its letter to Austin, Comer and Rogers requested further details about the policy changes Stefanek referenced, as well as Defense Department “regulations and policies” related to records disclosure.
The committee further requested details of any “administrative or punitive action” taken against those involved in the disclosures to DDG. The Air Force has not said much about those behind the disclosures, though Stefanek in October described the person who improperly disclosed Green’s information as a “junior individual.”
The committee also asked if there were “active Air Force Office of Special Investigations case or any other criminal referral of DDG for potential violations of law pertaining to improper access and disclosure of private, federal, military personnel records.”
“The recent broader release of additional service members’ records highlights not only the inadequacy of procedures to secure military personnel files, but also raises concerning questions of possible illicit motive or political partisanship,” the committee said.
The Air Force has taken accountability for the disclosures, “elevating the approval level for release of information to third parties and conducting intensified retraining for personnel who handle record requests,” Stefanek said.
“Department of the Air Force employees did not follow proper procedures requiring the member’s authorizing signature consenting to the release of information,” she said. “There was no evidence of political motivation or malicious intent on the part of any employee.”
Still, the committee said further investigation is warranted, as it is “essential” that service members can “trust their leadership’s ability to protect private personnel data from improper disclosure.”
Bacon agreed, adding that the need for privacy extends not only to active-duty troops but to all those who have served.
“Veterans deserve peace of mind knowing their information is safe and will be protected from political dirty tricksters,” he said.
The HASC’s renewed push for more information into the matter comes months after a group of military veteran lawmakers queried the Air Force for further information into Green’s case.17
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Rep. August Pfluger (R-Texas), who led the group’s efforts, on Tuesday said “our military personnel should never have to worry about the DOD releasing their information to anyone, let alone partisan attack dogs.”
“It is an outrage to think that the USAF released the personal information of Republican lawmakers at the request of Democratic opposition research hacks for the purpose of attacking their military records,” he said. “Secretary Austin must answer for this egregious error.”
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