Jan. 6 rally organizers sue Verizon to stop release of cell phone records

The House Jan. 6 committee had subpoenaed the records as part of its probe.

December 13, 2021, 7:29 PM

Several organizers of the Jan. 6 rally near the White House filed a lawsuit Monday against Verizon to prevent the telecommunications giant from sharing cell phone data with the congressional committee investigating the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol.

The plaintiffs in the suit -- Justin Caporale, Tim Unes, Maggie Mulvaney, and Megan Powers -- argue that Congress lacks authority to obtain the requested cell phone data, which the committee has requested as part of its probe.

The committee's subpoena, issued to Verizon for call, text, and location information, "lacks a lawful purpose and seeks to invade the plaintiffs' constitutional rights to privacy and to confidential political communications," the suit says.

On Jan. 6, each of the plaintiffs played a role in organizing the rally held on the Ellipse where then-President Donald Trump spoke to a crowd of his supporters prior to the deadly attack on the Capitol. Some attendees marched to the Capitol following the rally, but organizers say their event was unrelated to the subsequent attack and had no connection to what transpired at the Capitol.

All the plaintiffs are longtime Republican political operatives, and most worked for Trump since his first presidential campaign in 2015. Some have continued to work for the Save America PAC as the former president has continued campaign-like events around the country in his post-presidency life.

PHOTO: Violent insurrections loyal to President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.
Violent insurrections loyal to President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.
Julio Cortez/AP, FILE

In late September, the House Select Committee investigating the events of Jan. 6 and Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election issued subpoenas to Caporale, Unes, Mulvaney, Powers, and others allegedly tied to the organization of the rally on the Ellipse.

The subpoenas sought "a range of records that include materials dealing with the planning, funding, and participation in the events and bus tours; social media activity of associated entities; and communications with or involvement of Trump Administration officials and lawmakers."

Earlier this month, each of the plaintiffs received a letter from Verizon informing them that the company had also been subpoenaed by the committee for their respective records.

Monday's lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in New Jersey, claimed that the committee's subpoena request of Verizon was "unconstitutional," and called for those records to be destroyed.

"If Congress wanted to know anything more about the plaintiffs' narrow intersection with the events it is allegedly investigating, it needed only have asked," the lawsuit read.

"Instead," the lawsuit said, "Congress pivoted to Verizon, the telecommunications carrier for each of the Plaintiffs, to indiscriminately demand detailed information about their accounts, contacts, political associates, and locations over a three-month period that greatly exceeds the short window of time about which Congress questioned the plaintiffs."

Barbara Comstock, a former Republican congresswoman and a lead House investigator during the Clinton impeachment probe, characterized Monday's lawsuit as a long shot bid to stall the congressional probe in hopes that Republicans regain control of Congress in the midterm elections.

"These witnesses have their eye on the 2022 elections and think they can run out the clock," Comstock said. "But the Biden Justice Department will still be there to hold them in contempt until at least January 2025."

In August, a select committee spokesperson confirmed that letters had been sent to 35 telecommunications and social media companies, "instructing them to preserve records which may be relevant to the Select Committee's investigation," without identifying the firms or the intended purpose of the requested records.

The Democrat-led bipartisan panel investigating Jan. 6 has already issued dozens of subpoenas to Trump's political allies and former White House officials, many of whom have thus far refused to comply. Republican critics of the probe have dismissed it as politically motivated.

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