Republican senators accused FBI leadership of retaliation against a whistleblower who claimed the agency is creating misleading domestic terrorism crime statistics.
Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday, asserting that bureau leadership wrongly disciplined an FBI agent who raised concerns about cases related to the breach of the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021.
The senators included a copy of FBI Special Agent Stephen Friend's whistleblower declaration in their letter. Friend said he was suspended by the FBI for speaking up and refusing to participate in investigations related to the events of Jan. 6.
In the declaration, dated Sept. 21, Friend said that the FBI had employed a "manipulative casefile practice," related to the Jan. 6 cases, that "creates false and misleading crime statistics."
"Instead of hundreds of investigations stemming from an isolated incident at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, FBI and DOJ officials point to significant increases in domestic violent extremism and terrorism around the United States," Friend said.
The suspended agent said he told his superiors last month that he "would not participate" in any operations related to Jan. 6 cases.
Sens. Grassley and Johnson pointed out in their letter that "rather than reassigning Special Agent Friend other tasks as he requested, FBI leadership apparently made the choice to retaliate against and make an example of him."
"FBI leadership suspended Special Agent Friend without pay, and suspended his security clearance without providing any evidence that he poses a legitimate security risk," the senators wrote. "They also confiscated his credentials, firearm, and badge, and escorted him out of the FBI field office."
"The alleged actions by FBI senior leadership are unacceptable and send exactly the wrong message," they continued. "The FBI should never suspend security clearances as a form of punishment or to retaliate against patriotic whistleblowers for stepping forward to report potential wrongdoing."
Friend joined the FBI in 2014 and was transferred to the FBI's Jacksonville field office in June 2021 to investigate child exploitation and human trafficking. He claimed he was reassigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force in October 2021 and tasked with investigating domestic terrorism.
He said he was told the reassignment was needed "due to the voluminous number of J6 investigations" and "rising threats" of domestic violent extremism.
"I was told that child sexual abuse material investigations were no longer an FBI priority and should be referred to local law enforcement agencies," Friend said in his declaration.
Friend also claimed that he is listed as the "case agent" on active Jan. 6 criminal cases that he has not done any investigative work on.
At a House Judiciary Committee hearing in July, Matt Olsen, assistant attorney general for the National Security Division of the Justice Department, said "the number of FBI investigations of suspected domestic violent extremism has more than doubled since the spring of 2020." He went on to say that "at least a significant portion of that jump" can be attributed to prosecutions of Jan. 6 suspects.
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