Hawley Accuses AG Garland of Lying to Lawmakers about FBI Sting Operation Targeting Catholics

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Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) sent a letter to Merrick Garland on Tuesday accusing the attorney general of misleading lawmakers about the FBI’s targeting of traditional Catholics as potential domestic extremists.

The letter was prompted by House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Jordan’s Monday revelation that the FBI had at least one “undercover employee” working to cultivate sources among the Catholic clergy and leadership.

“Let’s be clear: your Department has decided to turn Catholic congregations into front organizations for the FBI, and when asked about it, you’ve decided to fudge the truth before Congress. This is an unconscionable assault on American Catholics’ First Amendment rights and an abdication of your duty to enforce the law without fear or favor,” the Missouri Senator wrote in a letter to Garland requesting further details.

“Everyone involved with this chilling surveillance campaign must face accountability,” Hawley continued before demanding clarification as to how many undercover informants the FBI relied upon in Catholic parishes and which other field offices were informed by such guidance.

“I specifically asked Merrick Garland whether the FBI was targeting Catholic parishes and he said no. Now it turns out the FBI was using undercover sources in multiple parishes,” Hawley wrote on Twitter Monday afternoon.

Jordan issued a subpoena to FBI director Christopher Wray Monday, demanding that Wray testify before the committee about the bureau’s efforts to identify alleged white supremacists within Catholic churches in Northern Virginia.

“This shocking information reinforces our need for all responsive documents, and the Committee is issuing a subpoena to you to compel your full cooperation,” Jordan wrote in Monday’s letter.

“Americans attend church to worship and congregate for their spiritual and personal betterment,” the note added. “They must be free to exercise their fundamental First Amendment rights without worrying that the FBI may have planted so-called ‘tripwire’ sources or other informants in their houses of worship.”

The weaponization subcommittee, which Jordan also oversees, began looking into the FBI’s targeting of Catholics after a former FBI agent leaked a memo entitled, “Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities.”

The document, issued by the bureau’s Richmond field office, relied on information compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center regarding alleged “extremist” Catholic communities that prefer the Latin Mass and hold to conservative social teachings.

“In making this assessment, FBI Richmond relied on the key assumption that [racially or ethnically motivated extremists] will continue to find [radical-traditionalist Catholic or RTC] ideology attractive and will continue to attempt to connect with RTC adherents, both virtually via social media and in-person at places of worship,” the January 23 FBI memo stated.

The document was quickly retracted after it was first publicized and FBI director Wray condemned its author during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in March.

“When I first learned of the piece I was aghast, and we took steps immediately to withdraw it and remove it from FBI systems. It does not reflect FBI standards. We do not conduct investigations based on religious affiliation or practices, full stop. We have also now ordered our Inspection Division to take a look at how this happened and try to figure out how we can make sure something like this doesn’t happen again,” Wray said at the time.

A similar sentiment was echoed by the FBI’s acting assistant director of congressional affairs, Christopher Dunham, in an agency response to an earlier inquiry by Jordan published on March 23.

The report “did not meet the FBI’s exacting standards and was withdrawn,” Dunham said. “Upon learning of the document, FBI Headquarters removed it from our internal system.  The FBI also initiated a review — which is now ongoing,” Dunham wrote.

The “FBI is not anti-Catholic in any way, shape, or form, and does not target people of any faith because of their religious beliefs.”

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