Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) blasted Attorney General Merrick Garland over the FBI’s outrageous arrest of a Catholic pro-life father during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday.
Mark Houck, an author and sidewalk counselor, was found not guilty in January of federal charges alleging he violated the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. The law makes it a federal crime to use physical force with the intent to injure, intimidate and interfere with anyone obtaining or providing abortion services.
Federal officials had falsely claimed Houck had assaulted an “abortion escort” while blocking the abortion facility. Video of the altercation showed that the father and son were not blocking the clinic and did not initiate the altercation. Rather, the father had reacted to the abortion worker’s aggressive behavior toward his son, pushing him back when he got too close.
The incident was so minor city police and the district attorney declined to file charges against Houck, and after the escort filed a private criminal complaint in Philadelphia’s municipal court, the case was dismissed.
After Houck had offered to turn himself in, the Biden DOJ allegedly chose to send 25 to 30 FBI agents to Houck’s rural home on the morning of September 24, 2022 to make the arrest in front of his family.
They surrounded the house with rifles in firing position, and “started pounding on the door and yelling for us to open it,” Houck’s wife Ryan Marie told LifeSite following the raid. The feds hauled the dad away as his seven children “were all just screaming” in terror according to Ryan Marie. The home-schooling mom said she had to seek counsel from psychiatrists or psychologists to help her traumatized kids process what happened.
While displaying a photo of several FBI agents armed with long guns and ballistic shields at the Houck’s front door, Hawley demanded: “Why did the Justice Department do this? Why did you send 20 to 30 SWAT-style agents in a SWAT-style team to this guy’s house when everyone else declined to prosecute and he’d offered to turn himself in?”
Garland said that the FBI makes the determination of how to make a federal arrest based on “the tactical operators in the district,” prompting Hawley to shoot back “but surely you’ve looked into it by this point?”
The attorney general said that all he knows is that the FBI made “the decisions on the ground as to what was safest and easiest.” He added that he doesn’t agree with Hawley’s description of how the FBI arrest of the Houck unfolded.
“You don’t agree with my description? I’m pointing out what the photo is,” Hawley fired back, pointing the picture he displayed. “There are agents here who have long guns and ballistic shields.”
The senator then displayed picture of the Houck clan posing for a family photo at church.
“Lets take a look at the hardened criminals that Justice Department sent these armed agents to go terrorize on that morning,” Hawley sarcastically continued. “Here they are!” he exclaimed, pointing to the family picture. “Here they are at Mass. Here’s the seven children with Mr. Houck and his wife … Mrs. Houck has said repeatedly the children were screaming, they feared for their lives … he had offered to turn himself in! And this is who you go to terrorize?!”
When Hawley asked Garland if he believed the FBI’s show of force against the Houck family was “objectively necessary,” the AG repeated his line about the decision being made by FBI agents on the ground.
Hawley insisted that Garland give him a straight answer, instead of shifting responsibility onto others.
“You’re the attorney general of the United States. You are in charge of the Justice Department, and yes sir! You are responsible, so give me an answer!”
Garland again argued that the FBI does not agree with the assessment that 20 to 30 agents raided the Houck home.
“I’m not asking about the FBI!” Hawley interjected. “You are the attorney general. Give me your answer. Do you think it was objectively reasonable and they used your [use of force] guidelines in sending 20 to 30 armed agents to terrorize these people?”
Again, Garland argued that the FBI’s version of events were “not consistent with” Hawley’s description.
“What? That the children weren’t there? That there weren’t long guns there, that there weren’t agents? What do you dispute? What the factual premise you dispute, be specific,” Hawley demanded.
Garland said that the FBI disputes the number of agents, and what their roles were.
“You know the jury in this case acquitted Mr. Houck, as I’m sure you’re aware,” Hawley continued.
Garland responded that he was aware, and respected the jury’s decision.
“Do you know how long it took them?” Hawley pressed.
“I don’t know,” Merrick responded.
“One hour,” Hawley exclaimed. “The Philadelphia District Attorney declines to prosecute, the private suit’s dismissed. You used an unbelievable show of force, with guns I might note that liberals usually decry,” Hawley declared. “We’re supposed to hate long guns and assault style weapons—you’re happy to deploy them against Catholics and innocent children! Happy to! And then you haul him into court and a jury acquits him in one hour!” he exclaimed. “I just suggest to you that that is a disgraceful performance by your Justice Department and a disgraceful use of resources,” Hawley added.
.@HawleyMO just ripped into Merrick Garland for the DOJ's arrest of pro-life father Mark Houck.
— Sarah Weaver (@SarahHopeWeaver) March 1, 2023
Declaring that he’s noticed a troubling “pattern,” Hawley then brought up a leaked memo from the Richmond FBI field office that advised the FBI infiltrate groups of traditionalist Roman Catholics who to circumvent potential trad Catholic extremist terror.
“Attorney General, are you cultivating sources and spies in Latin mass parishes and other Catholic parishes around the country?” Hawley demanded.
“The Justice Department does not do that, it does not do investigations based on religion,” Garland responded. “I saw the document you have, it’s appalling, I’m in complete agreement with you. I understand that the FBI has withdrawn it and is now looking into how this could ever have happened.”
“I’ll tell you how it happened. This memorandum, which is supposed to be intelligence, cites extensively the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) which goes on to identify all these different Catholics as being part of hate groups,” Hawley said. “Is this how the FBI under your direction and leadership does their intelligence work? They look at left-wing advocacy groups to target Catholics?!
Hawley added, “Is this what’s going on? Clearly it is. This is happening!”
“The FBI is not targeting Catholics, and as I’ve said, this is an inappropriate memorandum and it doesn’t reflect the methods the FBI is supposed to be using,” Garland said.
When asked how many FBI informants had infiltrated Catholic church groups, Garland said he didn’t know, but didn’t believe there were any.
“You don’t know the specifics about anything it seems, but apparently on your watch, this Justice Department is targeting Catholics, targeting people of faith specifically for their faith views, and Mr. Attorney General, I’ll just say to you it’s a disgrace!”
FULL EXCHANGE between Senator @HawleyMO and Attorney General Merrick Garland:
"You used an unbelievable show of force with guns, that I'd just note liberals usually decry…You're happy to deploy them against Catholics and innocent children!" pic.twitter.com/MaHt6D4HWu
— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) March 1, 2023