IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A judge upheld a warrant allowing federal agents to search the email account of an indicted Republican operative who has worked for Rand Paul, Ron Paul and Mitch McConnell, according to court documents unsealed Tuesday.
Magistrate Judge Helen Adams on Monday rejected a request by Jesse Benton to quash a warrant that orders Google Inc. to turn over the contents of his Gmail account dating back to March 2011. On Tuesday, she unsealed her order and other court documents that show Benton had resisted the warrant for 11 months.
Benton's attorney said in a letter to the court Monday that the account contains nearly 500,000 emails, including communications related to the presidential campaign of Kentucky senator Rand Paul, the 2014 re-election of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and the 2012 presidential campaign of Ron Paul.
Benton and two other aides to Ron Paul's 2012 campaign were indicted last week in Iowa, accused of conspiring to buy the support of state Sen. Kent Sorenson before that year's Iowa caucuses. The indictment alleges Benton negotiated a $73,000 payment to Sorenson in exchange for his leaving the Michele Bachmann campaign to support Paul. It accuses the trio of covering it up by using false invoices to hide the money in campaign records and filings.
Benton and John Tate are due to be arraigned next week in federal court in Des Moines. In the wake of their indictment, they have taken leave from their jobs leading America's Liberty PAC, a super political action committee backing Rand Paul's presidential campaign. The third aide, former Ron Paul deputy campaign manager Dimitri Kesari, appeared last week and was released on bond.
As part of the investigation, U.S. Magistrate Thomas Shields approved an FBI request for the warrant to obtain Benton's Gmail account last year. But Google declined to produce the documents after Benton's attorney, Roscoe Howard, told the company he would challenge the warrant as overly broad.
Howard declined comment Tuesday. In his letter Monday, he argued the government lacked probable cause to search the entire account and was engaged in a "fishing expedition." He said his client had already turned over many responsive documents during the investigation and supplied a 50,000-page summary chart describing each email.
"Frighteningly, the government still maintains that it has the right to trample Mr. Benton's privacy rights and look through every single one of Mr. Benton's emails, just as if his email account were a warehouse full of documents," Howard wrote.
In her ruling, Adams noted that Shields found probable cause to support the warrant and that Benton cited no legal authority that would block it.
The unsealed records show Benton had given permission to the FBI last year to search the account, then withdrew it days later after investigators started combing through documents.
The Department of Justice declined comment Tuesday.
In a filing last year, federal prosecutors said investigators only would seize those emails that relate to the ongoing investigation and won't "read in full" any that are unrelated. They said the government would filter out emails protected by attorney-client privilege.