For the first time since the government failed to win a single conviction in the alleged criminal plot to “kidnap” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020, a top Justice Department official was publicly confronted about the FBI’s primary role in concocting the hoax.
It was not a welcome line of inquiry, to say the least.
Matthew Olsen, head of the National Security Division, repeatedly rebuffed questions by U.S. Representative Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) about the case during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Thursday. A Michigan jury in April acquitted two men charged with conspiring to kidnap Whitmer after defense attorneys successfully argued their clients had been entrapped by the FBI; the jury deadlocked on two other defendants. Shortly after the stunning verdicts were handed down in what the Justice Department considers one of its most prominent “domestic terror” investigations in recent history, prosecutors announced they would retry Barry Croft and Adam Fox, the alleged ringleader of the group.
The new trial involves Olsen’s division, but rather than take time to perform the usual self-indulgent back slapping and preening common among top law enforcement officials during public hearings, Olsen had little to say except to confirm the Whitmer case was a good example of how the Justice Department handles domestic terror threats.
“I would include that case among many others that are part of our efforts to ensure that people who serve in public office are safe,” Olsen told the committee.
But there is one little problem with Olsen’s comment and one major problem for his department as federal prosecutors prepare to go back to trial on August 9: not only was Whitmer never in danger—she knew about the plan weeks if not months before the alleged kidnappers were arrested. The Justice Department faces a steeper climb in the new trial as it must prove a kidnapping “conspiracy” with two fewer conspirators. (Two original defendants pleaded guilty and will testify for the government.)
Further, a second high-profile trial will once again expose the shocking details of the FBI’s wide-ranging scheme, which involved at least a dozen FBI undercover agents and informants working with multiple FBI handlers over a span of six months to stitch the targeted group of men together.
In fact, Bishop presented to Olsen an enlarged image of a text between an FBI handler and the main informant, Dan Chappel. “Look at you, bringing people together,” the June 2020 text read. Bishop presented another text associated with the FBI’s attempt to induce a man in Virginia to initiate the same plot against Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. “Mission is to kill the governor specifically,” FBI agent Jayson Chambers instructed Chappel in August 2020.
While Olsen eagerly discussed details of the Justice Department’s other domestic terror invesigation—the mostly nonviolent four-hour disturbance at the Capitol on January 6, 2021—he declined to address anything about the Whitmer caper. “It’s an ongoing case, the judge has ordered a retrial and that retrial is set,” Olsen said, spinning a pen in his hands. “Given that it’s an ongoing case, I simply can’t comment on any of the questions you’ve asked.”
Bishop’s questions included publicly reported facts such as the number of FBI assets; the use of surveillance tools such as drones and airplanes; and FBI funds used to compensate informants and pay restaurant and hotel tabs for the FBI’s targets.
Olsen also couldn’t answer why the FBI decided to arrest the defendants on October 7, 2020 as millions of Americans were voting for president that year. As I explained here, the kidnapping ruse was another example of the FBI interfering in a presidential election to damage Donald Trump; Whitmer and Joe Biden blamed Trump for inciting violence against one of his most public political foes, which resulted in wall-to-wall negative headlines for Trump right before Election Day.
When Bishop asked about the fortuitous timing of the arrests, Olsen gave an unconvincing if not historically inaccurate defense of the FBI’s actions. “I can tell you that in every case we follow the facts and the evidence and the law and we do so without regard to politics or ideology.”
Pretty rich from an official who spent half the hearing covering for the department’s non-investigation into the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop, amounting to an additional layer of 2020 election interference.
Olsen may get away with stonewalling for now. But if a jury in the second trial acquits the remaining two defendants—their public defenders again plan to argue FBI entrapment—Olsen and his Justice Department colleagues won’t be able to stay silent for long. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) warned Olsen that “winter is coming” for the Justice Department, referring to a likely Republican takeover of Congress next year. “We are going to be in the majority and you are going to have to answer questions.”
There’s plenty that the American people deserve to know about the dangerous political machinations in the U.S. Department of Justice. The Whitmer hoax should be toward the top of the list.