'Two FBIs': Whistleblowers accuse DC HQ of trampling Constitution, field offices

Twitter Files show agency's mission is now "a perversion of the First Amendment," 33-year veteran says.

Published: February 9, 2023 8:01pm

Updated: February 9, 2023 11:20pm

House Republicans think federal agencies have become a weapon against their own apolitical employees and the constitutional rights of Americans. House Democrats think House Republicans have become a weapon against the prerogatives of federal agencies.

The parties traded laundry lists of grievances stemming from agency and congressional investigations, from the Benghazi attack to the Russia collusion hoax, at the first hearing Thursday of the House Judiciary Committee's Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.

Minority Democrats deemed the subcommittee itself a threat to the safety and integrity of law enforcement, arguing GOP rhetoric provoked a "dirty bomb" threat against the FBI after its raid on former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago. Majority Republicans pointed to their November staff report on FBI whistleblowers and the Justice Department's politicization.

They also disagreed sharply on the nature of parent-led protests against school boards that prompted Attorney General Merrick Garland's explosive memo about "domestic terrorism."

The partisan dynamics carried over from Wednesday's House Oversight Committee hearing about "government interference" in speech, where Twitter executives admitted the pre-Elon Musk company used various tacks to suppress certain political content and covertly communicated with the feds.

Disputes about COVID-19 policy and censorship played only a small role at Thursday's subcommittee hearing, as when Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) tried to discredit former Obama administration appointee Elliot Williams for his lobbying firm representing Google and Pfizer. This "revolving door" breeds distrust in the feds, Gaetz said.

Democrats went after GOP witnesses too. Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) mocked retired FBI agent and whistleblower Thomas Baker for describing the Jan. 6 riot as "crimes" rather than "domestic terrorism," while Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) dismissed law professor Jonathan Turley's analysis of the Twitter Files as "opinion" because he never worked at Twitter.

The subcommittee has heard from "dozens and dozens of whistleblowers" just in the FBI, with one sitting for a transcribed interview Tuesday and many more expected to do so, Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said. 

Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) demanded GOP staff turn over their notes from pre-deposition meetings with whistleblowers. Jordan retorted "you didn't show up" for the Tuesday deposition, prompting objections from Democrats that they've been left in the dark.

Ranking member Stacey Plaskett (D-V.I.) set the tone for Democrats by dubbing the subcommittee "a place to settle scores ... advance conspiracy theories," disrupt the FBI's work against "chaos" and interfere in ongoing criminal investigations, including Trump's. 

Echoing the Justice Department, Democrats denounced Jordan for rushing out subpoenas related to Garland's school-board memo. They also repeatedly emphasized the limits of free speech, with Plaskett implying that "racist" and "hate" speech are not constitutionally protected.

The former FBI agents and whistleblowers affirmed GOP portrayals of the bureau as increasingly politicized and centralized in D.C., running roughshod over field offices and rank and file.

"Personally, it breaks my heart" to see this "culture rot," said Baker, a 33-year veteran still "closely engaged" with the FBI, who faults former Director Robert Mueller for remaking the bureau as an "intelligence-driven agency" that threatens liberty across the ideological spectrum. 

The Twitter Files show the agency's mission is now "a perversion of the First Amendment," he said, telling Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.) that "we wouldn't be having this discussion today" if FBI Director Chris Wray had publicly pledged the bureau would not use speech alone as a predicate for investigations.

Congress should rein in the CIA and NSA as well for "reverse targeting" practices that spy on Americans by finding foreign close contacts the agencies can portray as the real targets, Baker said. Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) noted the Twitter Files include a request from "the fort," passed through FBI Special Agent Elvis Chan, to restore Twitter's data feed to the Fort Meade-based NSA.

Former Miami Special Agent Nicole Parker joined the FBI from a hedge fund after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and "held out as long as I could" before leaving in disgust last fall. She broke down in tears as she described her field work in the Parkland shooting and her fear of testifying.

There are now "two FBIs," Parker said, citing a shift in recruiting practices and lowering of eligibility requirements that has transformed a "calling" into "merely a very dangerous and high-risk" job. Honorable agents now just "work hard and stay off the radar" to claim their pension.

Republican Senators Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson testified on how federal agencies tried to thwart their investigations into the Biden family's financial dealings among others and falsely portray them as "Russian stooges," including through misleading leaks. 

The 89-year-old Iowa Republican railed against the FBI, media and Democrats as a "triad of disinformation and outright falsehoods." The younger Wisconsin Republican promised a full investigation into "the genesis of the impeachment saga" against Trump and a forthcoming report with "far greater detail" on the attempted "sabotage" of the Hunter Biden laptop story.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) accused Republicans of using "pure psychological projection" to brand their opponents with their own violations, citing Trump's dismissal of inspectors general. The cancer-stricken House Oversight ranking member noted Jordan's public comments that GOP investigations will "frame up" the 2024 election for Trump's return to office.

"The government has a long history of lying to us" and is now working through "their arms in media and Big Tech" to control what Americans can see and say, contrarian former Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard warned. "They think we're too stupid to think for ourselves."

The ex-Democrat said America increasingly resembles a "banana republic" that threatens challenges to the establishment. Her Google Ads account was "mysteriously suspended" after a presidential primary debate that prompted widespread searches for Gabbard's campaign, and she showed up on the debunked "Hamilton 68" dashboard of supposed Russian bots

Survey data show Americans increasingly view the FBI itself as politicized and a threat, according to George Washington University's Turley, who said he's nearing 60 appearances before Congress as both a Democratic and GOP witness. 

Just the information revealed by the Twitter Files, covering only the 15th-largest social network by users, shows that "this may be the largest censorship system in the history of our country" even if it falls short of creating an "agency relationship" bound by the First Amendment, he said.

New York's Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking House Republican, said the Twitter Files show the revolving door between the feds and the company illustrated by former FBI General Counsel James Baker and Dawn Burton, who was former director James Comey's deputy chief of staff.

Ex-FBI Twitter employees "created their own Slack Channel and crib sheet," Stefanik said. "This is the definition of election meddling."

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