EXCLUSIVE: Two top House Republicans are frustrated with the Department of Defense over its delay in providing answers to a series of questions concerning its improper release of military records belonging to at least 11 people, including several Republicans who ran for Congress in last year’s midterm elections.
Earlier this month, House Armed Services Committee Chair Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer, R-Ky., sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin demanding answers about the Air Force’s release of military personnel files of service members seeking elected office to an opposition research firm.
The letter, sent Feb. 13, requested that Austin provide the committee with a list of the improperly released records of congressional candidates over the past two years, a status report on the notifications to those impacted by the improper release and the regulations and policies pertaining to the safeguards for proper release.
Comer and Rogers also asked for information on whether there are any active investigations or criminal referrals pertaining to the leak.
DCCC, AIR FORCE UNDER FIRE OVER IMPROPER RELEASE OF GOP CANDIDATES’ MILITARY RECORDS: ‘BEYOND DISTURBING’
The lawmakers gave a Feb. 27 deadline to provide answers, but the Defense Department has yet to respond. A source with knowledge of the Republicans’ push to get answers about the leaked records told Fox that the Defense Department informed the committee it would provide an answer to the letter from Rogers and Comer by March 17.
“It’s unacceptable that Department of Defense continues to delay answering our committee on the egregious mishandling of private service member records,” Rogers told Fox News Digital Wednesday. “Our service members deserve better. We will continue to press DOD until we get answers.”
Similarly, Comer told Fox that the Defense Department’s behavior “sets a dangerous precedent” for those who have had their information leaked.
“The Department of Defense’s failure to provide timely answers to Congress’ investigation into the release of official records to a private research firm is discouraging news for the men and women of the armed forces that have lost trust that their private data is protected,” Comer said. “This behavior by a government agency sets a dangerous precedent for victims of leaked information.
“Chairman Rogers and I are committed to getting answers as to how this private data was obtained and released without consent. We will not settle for any other response from the Department of Defense.”
HOUSE GOP DEMANDS ANSWERS FROM PENTAGON ON LEAKED RECORDS OF CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATES
“It is essential that the men and women of the Armed Forces trust their leadership’s ability to protect private personnel data from improper disclosure,” the letter from the GOP congressmen states. “The release of Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) outside the proper processes violates Department of Defense (DOD) policy and the Privacy Act of 1974, and if done pursuant to a public request, may also violate protections afforded under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).”
The letter added that the Air Force informed the committee that it released records for 11 individuals between October 2021 and December 2022 to the private research firm that “allegedly misrepresented itself” to obtain the records.
“This conduct by the Air Force is, at a minimum, unacceptable. The conduct by the research firm is quite possibly criminal,” the congressmen wrote.
Last week, it was revealed that Due Diligence Group, the research firm that obtained the military personnel records of congressional candidates, was funded by two campaign groups working to elect Democrats to the House and Senate.
According to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) gave $173,000 to Due Diligence Group during the 2022 election season, including three separate payments of over $30,000 after the election.
RESEARCH GROUP THAT IMPROPERLY OBTAINED MILITARY RECORDS OF GOP CANDIDATES WAS PAID BY TWO DEM COMMITTEES
The firm also received more than $110,000 from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) between January 2021 and December 2022, according to public FEC filings.
Besides the DSCC and the DCCC, no other campaigns, PACs or committees that itemize disbursements employed Due Diligence Group, according to a search of FEC records.
The Air Force said earlier this month that Abraham Payton, a partner of Due Diligence Group, requested and was provided with the private military records of several Republican midterm candidates ahead of their elections.
Payton’s bio page is no longer available online, but an archived version of Due Diligence Group’s website shows he “joined a democratic SuperPAC in 2011,” where he “produced over 100 opposition research books and managed over 4,000 public record requests.”
On Feb. 8, GOP midterm candidates Sam Peters of Nevada and Kevin Dellicker of Pennsylvania were reportedly notified that Payton from Due Diligence Group made “multiple requests” for their military personnel records last year.
The Democrat-linked firm specializes in “using public records research to provide our clients with the knowledge and insights needed to drive strategic decision-making,” according to its website.
Reps. Don Bacon, R-Neb., and Zach Nunn, R-Iowa, have called for an investigation into potential illegal activity concerning the release of their records after they were both notified by the Air Force that their military records were released improperly while they were campaigning in the 2022 midterm elections.
Former GOP House candidate Jennifer-Ruth Green was another veteran whose personnel records, including details of a sexual assault that occurred during her time in the Air Force, were released to the public without her consent. The Air Force admitted in a letter that her military personnel records were released to a third party “without proper redaction.”
Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., also accused the Air Force Monday of likely leaking her military records and failing to respond to official correspondence demanding answers about a series of leaks that has affected a number of other GOP lawmakers and former candidates.
The Pentagon did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment.
Fox News’ Brandon Gillespie, Aubrie Spady, Thomas Phippen and Aaron Kliegman contributed to this article.