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Lankford, Grassley Keep the Pressure on for FBI’s Failure to Address Memo Targeting Catholics

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) joined Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and their colleagues in a renewed congressional push for answers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) regarding a memo from the Bureau tying adherents of the Catholic faith to violent extremist views. Although FBI Director Christopher Wray testified to Lankford in a Select Committee on Intelligence hearing that the anti-Catholic memo was “a product by one field office,” public disclosures from the House Judiciary Committee have since revealed that two additional field offices contributed to the memo’s production.

Lankford and Representative Michael Cloud (R-TX), along with 18 of their colleagues, led a letter to Director Wray regarding the leaked memo targeting Catholic Americans. The FBI has failed to follow up on multiple senators’ requests for information, preventing Congress from thoroughly investigating the memo.

Lankford and Grassley were joined in their letter by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mike Braun (R-IN), Josh Hawley (R-MO), and Rick Scott (R-FL). They are demanding the FBI provide an explanation for Wray’s misleading testimony to Congress and produce all requested documents to the Senate.

“Targeting Americans because of their ideas or political affiliations is always wrong and an abuse of the FBI’s power, but it’s especially alarming when it threatens the fundamental rights guaranteed in our Constitution, including the free exercise of religion,” the Senators wrote.

“Although the FBI quickly disavowed the report and explained that it did not meet FBI’s standards, six months after the fact, information continues to reach Congress in trickles, member and staff inquiries are ignored, and the information that has come to light conflicts with the FBI’s original assurances that the report was limited in scope,” the Senators continued.

Full text of the letter is available HERE and below:

Dear Director Wray:   

Due to numerous inconsistent reports as well as ideologically-motivated enforcement actions, public faith in the FBI continues to erode. We have seen one public example after another of the strong arm of federal law enforcement weaponized against ordinary Americans. Targeting Americans because of their ideas or political affiliations is always wrong and an abuse of the FBI’s power, but it’s especially alarming when it threatens the fundamental rights guaranteed in our Constitution, including the free exercise of religion.    

As we have expressed to you previously, the FBI’s memo from the Bureau’s Richmond, Virginia Field Office inappropriately, and without evidence, relied upon blatantly biased and discredited sources to tie Catholic Christians to violent extremism based largely on their conservative political views on issues like, ‘abortion rights, immigration, affirmative action, and LGBTQ protections.’ Upon its release, we were pleased by the FBI’s swift and firm disavowal of that memo and its contents, and were led to believe it was an isolated incident. As you will recall, on March 8, 2023, you testified before the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that the memo was, ‘a product by one field office.’ Despite this claim, documents recently provided to the House Judiciary Committee reportedly conflict with that testimony.    

For example, according to a letter from the House Judiciary Committee to you on August 9, 2023, ‘information recently produced to the Committee’ revealed that, ‘the FBI relied on information from around the country—including a liaison contact in the FBI’s Portland Field Office and reporting from the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office—to develop its assessment.’ Any coordination with field offices across the country to develop this memo directly contradicts your claim that this was a singular incident. Further, this information suggests the FBI may have intentionally withheld this key information from Members of Congress, despite our repeated requests for it.     

Moreover, although the FBI has promised to brief the House and Senate Judiciary Committees on the results of its internal review later this month, based on the House Judiciary Committee letter sent on August 9, 2023, such a briefing could have happened much earlier to provide information that’s since been provided to Congress. It is right for the FBI to conduct an internal review to reach conclusions about the origin, purpose, and use of the memo, but such a review does not prohibit the FBI from providing pertinent information to Congress while it conducts its own constitutionally-based investigations.    

On July 6, the FBI agreed to a call with staff from more than half a dozen Senate offices. Staff on that call requested information that did not rely upon the completion of the internal review and that FBI could have provided months ago. On the call, FBI staff were asked for clarification on what it means when it says it “rigorously examine[s]” sources used in its reports, as well as the scope of its internal review, details of the steps the FBI says it took to implement training and instruction to its agents in the wake of the report, and what the FBI meant when it said no “investigative actions” were taken as a result of the report. The FBI failed to provide sufficient answers to any of these questions on or since the call.  FBI boasts that it has provided ‘two document productions totaling 266 pages and . . . additional information in response to the [House] subpoena’s requests.’ However, the FBI has failed to produce the same information to the Senate. Despite promises from the Bureau that it would follow up in an expeditious manner after that call to answer reasonable questions from Senate offices, the FBI has failed to do so.   

Although the FBI quickly disavowed the report and explained that it did not meet FBI’s standards, six months after the fact, information continues to reach Congress in trickles, member and staff inquiries are ignored, and the information that has come to light conflicts with the FBI’s original assurances that the report was limited in scope.    

Accordingly, so that Congress can perform an independent and objective review, we request that you provide immediate explanation with respect to your potentially-misleading testimony before Congress, as well as a full explanation of information that came to light during the internal review. We also request that you explain the Bureau’s failure to produce information we requested that did not rely upon completion of the FBI internal review. And finally, we ask that FBI produce all documents to the Senate that it has provided to the House on this matter, and that it continue to provide this information to both chambers for future evaluation and investigation.    

Please respond to this letter no later than September 7, 2023.

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