Democrats Defeat Congressional Resolution Seeking Information on Postal Investigations
WASHINGTON — A House committee defeated a proposal Tuesday that could have brought reprisal against the U.S. Postal Service for allegedly investigating gun rights advocates and other conservative groups in another struggle over constitutional liberties.
This time the dispute centers on which rights come first, Second Amendment gun ownership or First Amendment free speech.
A resolution considered by the House Oversight and Reform Committee would have called on the president to turn over information about abuses of the Postal Service in surveillance of political protesters.
Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., who introduced the resolution, said recent press reports on the Internet Covert Operations Program indicate the agency “exceeded the Postal Service’s law enforcement authority.”
Much of the suspicious information was found in a U.S. Postal Service inspector general’s report requested in April by the Oversight and Reform Committee. Lawmakers were responding to news stories saying postal inspectors went far beyond making sure the mail was secure.
The inspector general’s report revealed that postal inspectors monitored gun rights activists at a rally in Richmond, Virginia; demonstrators in Louisville, Kentucky, after the 2020 police shooting of Breonna Taylor; and right-wing groups that protested in Washington, D.C., after Joe Biden was elected president.
“My question is, what does that have to do with the United States Postal Service,” Clyde asked.
He said First Amendment free speech rights should have protected political activists — conservative or not — from monitoring by the Postal Service or any other government agency.
The Trump administration organized the Postal Service’s Internet Covert Operations Program in 2018 amid FBI reports of heightened threats of domestic terrorism. Postal inspectors use surveillance tools like facial recognition and social media monitoring technology to assess threats against the government.
The program’s official mandate is “identification, disruption, and dismantling of individuals and organizations that use the mail or USPS online tools to facilitate black market trade or other illegal activities.”
The inspector general’s report showed that among 70 reports produced under the Internet Covert Operations Program, 18 were unrelated to postal services.
The report suggested that Congress provide more guidance on postal inspector surveillance, including approval of keywords for internet searches, better documentation of searches, approval before the monitoring begins and requirements of a “postal nexus.”
Republicans intended their resolution seeking more information about misconduct by postal inspectors as a prelude to a legislative crackdown.
“We cannot allow our federal government to be weaponized against any political group in this country,” said Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga.
Democrats who defeated the resolution called it a political ploy by conservatives that was unnecessary. A better option is closer supervision by the Board of Governors of the Postal Service, which is the agency’s governing body, they said.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who chairs the Oversight and Reform Committee, called the proposal to review postal inspectors’ investigations a “highly partisan resolution.”
“It would do nothing to protect the First Amendment,” she said.
“This resolution seems to be suggesting that President Biden somehow used the Postal Service to spy on conservatives or other people,” Maloney said. “But nothing could be further from the truth.”
The resolution failed along party lines by a vote of 23-18.
The House committee considered the resolution one day after 70 mayors nationwide called on the Senate to ban assault-style rifles and to broaden background checks for gun buyers.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors delivered a letter to the Senate majority and minority leaders days after mass shootings in Chesapeake, Virginia, and Colorado Springs, Colorado.
A bill to ban assault rifle sales already passed the House last summer. It is awaiting a vote in the Senate, where it faces opposition from Republicans.
An assault weapons ban “does not in any way infringe on Second Amendment rights” and more extensive vetting of gun ownership applicants “would close serious loopholes in the background check system,” the letter says.