Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) tore into FBI Director Christopher Wray Tuesday for not firing anyone for targeting Catholics as potential domestic terrorists.
“You said, and I’m quoting now, ‘The FBI uses all tools available at its disposal to combat domestic terrorism,’ which now includes, apparently, the crime of being Catholic,” Hawley said during an FBI Oversight Committee hearing in the Senate. “Let’s talk a little bit about the FBI’s egregious targeting of Catholic Americans.”
The House Judiciary Committee released a report on Monday detailing the shocking extent of the FBI’s “weaponization of law enforcement against traditional Catholics.”
An FBI-wide memorandum originating from the FBI’s Richmond Field Office in January 2023 characterized so-called “radical-traditionalist Catholics” (RTCs) as potential violent extremists and proposed opportunities for the FBI to infiltrate Catholic churches as a form of “threat mitigation.”
The Committee and Select Subcommittee discovered that the FBI relied on at least one undercover agent to develop its assessment and the FBI even proposed developing sources among the Catholic clergy and church leadership. Not only did the FBI propose to develop sources, but it already interviewed a priest and choir director affiliated with a Catholic church in Richmond, Virginia for the memorandum. Most concerning of all, without the disclosure of the whistleblower, the Richmond memorandum would still be operative in FBI systems, violating the religious liberties of millions of Catholic Americans.
Last March, when news of the memo first broke, Wray told lawmakers that he was “aghast” upon discovering the memo’s existence, and claimed that the FBI “took steps immediately to withdraw it and remove it from FBI systems.”
Hawley blasted the Bureau for recruiting priests and choir directors to inform on fellow parishioners.
“How many other parishes around the country had priests or choir directors been approached—by the way, are Catholic choirs now, are they breeding grounds for domestic terrorism? Is this your latest theory?” he asked Wray.
“So how many people were fired for targeting Catholics at the FBI? Zero. But don’t worry: Chris Wray says they were “admonished” and got a ‘note in their file,'” Hawley continued. “I’m sure America’s 60 million Catholics feel much better.”
“Look, Senator, we do not, and will not, conduct investigations based on anyone’s exercise of their constitutionally protected …” Wray began before getting cut off by Hawley.
“You have done so, and your memo explicitly asks for it!” Hawley interjected.
Your memo labels ‘traditional Catholics’ as racially and ethically-motivated violent extremists in need of investigation. You have a list of churches! A list. In the memo! You’ve repeatedly said, “We don’t target churches, we don’t list churches.” They’re listed in the memo! So, how many other parishes have you gone to to talk to choir directors, for heaven’s sake? Do you know the answer to that question?
Wray replied that he did not know the answer to that question.
“But I can tell you that we don’t investigate people for their exercise of their constitutionally protected religious expression. That particular intelligence product, as soon as I saw it, I was aghast, I had it withdrawn,” he said.
“Really? You were aghast?” The Missouri Senator exclaimed.
Wray insisted that he was.
Hawley demanded to know if the people who wrote the memo were fired, and Wray said, “No.” The FBI Director then defended the individuals involved in writing the Richmond memo, claiming that they themselves are Catholic.
HAWLEY: Have you fired anybody involved in it?
WRAY: Senator, if you would give me a chance to answer —
HAWLEY: That’s a yes or a no, it’s not hard! Have you fired anybody involved in the writing of that outrageous memo? Because, frankly, you’ve repeatedly misled the public. Yes or no?
WRAY: The individuals involved in that product —
HAWLEY: Have you fired anyone?
WRAY: Just a minute! — Were not found to have engaged in any intentional or bad faith conduct, and in fact —
WRAY: In fact, Senator, a number of the individuals involved —
HAWLEY: So your answer’s no?
WRAY: A number of the individuals involved in writing that product in the Richmond office were themselves Catholic! So, the notion that they were targeting their own faith —
“Oh, I see! Oh! So it’s a “get out of jail free card!” Hawley exclaimed. “I see! So, you’re immune and they’re immune! So, we shouldn’t ask questions about it. You haven’t done a darn thing. You haven’t fired anybody!”
Are Catholic choirs now breeding grounds for domestic terrorism? The FBI sure seems to think so.
Thanks to brave whistleblowers we know the FBI has been interviewing priests & choir directors as part of their attempts to go after "traditionalist Catholics." Shameful. pic.twitter.com/uqrjj4bWoT
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) December 5, 2023
So how many people were fired for targeting Catholics at the FBI? Zero. But don’t worry: Chris Wray says they were “admonished” and got a “note in their file.” I’m sure America’s 60 million Catholics feel much better pic.twitter.com/k7AUkQgiQo
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) December 5, 2023
During the hearing, Wray gave an impassioned pitch for Congress to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The warrantless surveillance powers allow the intelligence community to surveil Americans without a court’s approval.
Section 702 is set to expire at the end of the year unless it is reauthorized by Congress, and several House Republican leaders have expressed a desire to let it expire due to the FBI’s repeated abuse of the powers.
“702 is key to our ability to detect a foreign terrorist organization overseas directing an operative here to carry out an attack in our own backyard,” Wray said in his testimony.
As part of his pitch, Wray warned of “blinking lights everywhere he turns.”
“I’ve never seen a time when all the threats are elevated all at exactly the same time. That’s what makes this environment we’re in so fraught,” he said.
Christopher Wray went before the Senate Judiciary Committee today and warned of "blinking lights everywhere he turns":
"I've never seen a time when all the threats are elevated all at exactly the same time. That's what makes this environment we're in so fraught."
I'm told on… pic.twitter.com/EuviWC7dT8
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) December 5, 2023