Republicans and Democrats battled during a tense hearing Thursday over three FBI agents who Republicans say were retaliated against for blowing the whistle on bias at the agency— and who Democrats argue the GOP is using to legitimize the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
GOP lawmakers accused the FBI of retaliating against “truth tellers” by revoking their security clearances because they espoused conservative views and took their concerns to Republicans on the House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.
“Politics is driving the federal agencies,” said Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of both the Judiciary Committee and the subcommittee, alleging that the government targets citizens who are not politically correct.
“What’s just as frightening is if you’re one of the good employees who come forward to talk about the targeting, you become the target,” he added.
Democrats countered by arguing that the GOP, in the words of Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), was using the hearing as “a vehicle to legitimize the events of Jan. 6 and the people who perpetrated it.”
They questioned the FBI agents’ credibility and whether they should be considered whistleblowers, sparred with Republicans over access to documents and materials, and accused the panel of being a tool for former President Trump.
“This select committee is a clearing house for testing conspiracy theories for Donald Trump to use in his 2024 presidential campaign,” said Del. Stacey Plaskett (V.I.), the panel’s ranking Democrat.
“You all have employment grievances. That doesn’t make you whistleblowers,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said.
The hearing, which took place just days after special counsel John Durham released a report that offered stark criticism for the FBI’s opening of an investigation into Trump’s 2016 campaign ties to Russia, underscored GOP suspicions of the federal intelligence and law enforcement organizations.
Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.) at one point referenced the piercing evil eye from J. R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” series to describe the FBI.
“The Eye of Sauron has turned inward, and it is operating with a white-hot intensity that seeks to destroy everything in its path,” she said.
The hearing accompanied the Thursday release of an interim staff report from the panel’s Republicans that detailed what it says are abuses by the FBI, as described by what Republicans say are dozens of whistleblowers.
Allegations both in the report and in the hearing range from the agents being directed to scribble down license plate numbers in a parking lot outside a school board meeting to being pressured to open cases on people who traveled to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, but did not enter the Capitol.
Democrats had already preemptively countered the GOP’s “weaponization” investigation, writing in a 300-page report in March that some of the GOP witnesses were connected to committee Republicans through people with deep ties to former President Trump. Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) reiterated and established at the hearing that two of the witnesses had received donations from Kash Patel, a former top Department of Defense official who is a surrogate for Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign.
Jordan brushed off the financial connection between witnesses and Trump allies in a press conference Thursday.
“They’ve got a family. How are they supposed to pay their family?” he asked.
The FBI in a statement asserted that it does not retaliate against protected whistleblowers.
“The FBI’s mission is to uphold the Constitution and protect the American people. The FBI has not and will not retaliate against individuals who make protected whistleblower disclosures,” the agency said in a statement to The Hill in response to the subcommittee hearing.
Thursday’s hearing also came just one day after the FBI sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee that went into more detail about the reasons why the agency revoked the security clearances from three agents, including two of those who testified at the subcommittee hearing Thursday.
According to a copy of the FBI letter obtained by The Hill, agent Brett Gloss, who did not testify at the hearing and has not been charged with a crime, was in a restricted area of the U.S. Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021, amounting to criminal trespass and “questionable judgment” that indicated he may not properly safeguard classified or sensitive information.
Agent Marcus Allen, one of the witnesses at Thursday’s hearing, had his security clearance revoked after the agency found he “espoused alternative theories to coworkers” about Jan. 6 “in apparent attempts to hinder investigative activity,” including sharing a theory that federal law enforcement had infiltrated the crowd.
“It appears I was retaliated against because I forwarded information to my superiors that questioned the official narrative of January 6th,” Allen said in the Thursday hearing. He also said the FBI’s assertion that his supervisor “admonished” him was inaccurate.
The FBI also found that one case related to Jan. 6 was closed after Allen said he did not find any relevant information about a subject — but that case was later reopened after another FBI employee found relevant information that was publicly available. That person assaulted a Capitol Police officer on Jan. 6, the agency said.
At one point in the hearing, Democrats stumbled in an attempt to push back on the witnesses’ credibility when Sánchez asked Allen to address a Twitter account with the name “Marcus Allen” that had retweeted a tweet asserting that former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) staged the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Allen responded that it was not his Twitter account — and that he did not agree with the message, condemning the violence at the Capitol on that day.
The FBI said agent Stephen Friend had his security clearance revoked after he acknowledged that he “publicly released sensitive FBI information on his personal social media accounts without authorization,” participated in unapproved media interviews, and secretly recorded a meeting with FBI management.
Friend testified to the committee that after raising concerns to his superiors with how the FBI was handling investigations into Jan. 6 subjects, the FBI suspended him without pay.
Friend testified that he was assigned to attend a school board meeting and took down the information from attendees’ license plates in the parking lot. He also said that after he was suspended from the FBI, his investigations of child sexual exploitation material were handed off to local law enforcement rather than to another federal agent.
A third witness, Garrett O’Boyle, who had his security clearance suspended but not yet fully revoked, was suspended without pay after he raised concerns with his chain of command and then made disclosures to Congress. He had just made a move across the country for the job, and he choked up as he described the FBI holding his family’s belongings — including his children’s clothing — for six weeks before they could access them.
Jordan said that O’Boyle was the first whistleblower to tell the committee about the process the FBI was using to assess threats against school board members, which he said have resulted in zero prosecutions.
“When citizens in this country get to the point where they can call the most powerful law-enforcement agency in the world on their neighbor just because they disagree with them, that is chilling to the First Amendment rights of the people who are getting the FBI called on them,” O’Boyle said in the hearing.
Mike Lillis contributed. Updated at 6:16 p.m.