Hawley Demands Answers from Garland for Apparent Lie to Senate About FBI Targeting Catholics


GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Tuesday accusing him of providing false testimony to the Senate last month regarding the FBI seeking to place informants in Roman Catholic churches.

In an internal memo in January, the bureau’s Richmond, Virginia, field office stated that “[racially or ethnically motivated extremists] will continue to find [radical-traditionalist Catholic] 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 office assessed that there are “opportunities for threat mitigation through exploration of new avenues for tripwire and source development.” “Tripwires” are informants of suspicious activity.

The memo cited information from the Southern Poverty Law Center and articles from liberal media outlets Salon and The Atlantic to help underpin the determination of the supposed threat Roman Catholics could pose.

The Salon articles referenced included one titled, “‘Traditional’ Catholics and white nationalist ‘groypers’ forge a new far-right youth movement,” and another, “White nationalists get religion: On the far-right fringe, Catholics and racists forge a movement.” The title of the Atlantic story was “How Extremist Gun Culture Is Trying to Co-opt the Rosary.”

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During a March Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Hawley questioned Garland about the memo, asking, “Are you cultivating sources and spies in Latin mass parishes and other Catholic parishes around the country?”

“The Justice Department does not do that. It does not do investigations based on religion,” Garland answered. “I saw the document you sent. It’s appalling.”

“I’m in complete agreement with you. I understand that the FBI has withdrawn it and is now looking into how this could ever have happened,” the attorney general added.

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“How many informants do you have in Catholic churches across America?” Hawley also asked.

Garland responded, “I don’t know, and I don’t believe we have any informants aimed at Catholic churches. We have a rule against investigations based on First Amendment activity, and Catholic churches are obviously First Amendment activity.”

In his Tuesday letter to Garland, Hawley noted this back-and-forth they had in March and then asserted that all of Garland’s answers had been proved false.

“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,” the senator wrote.

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Hawley recounted that the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, had sought further information from the FBI regarding the memo and learned the bureau “does in fact have ‘informants aimed at Catholic churches.'”

The idea for the program was based on information from an FBI “undercover employee.” The FBI also apparently considered enlisting the leaders of traditional Catholic parishes to “serve as suspicious activity tripwires.”

Hawley concluded, “This shows the Department is clearly ‘cultivating sources and spies’ in Catholic parishes, regardless of what you claimed before the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

Based on this new information, Hawley had three questions for Garland. First, “How many undercover informants or other agents in Catholic parishes or other organizations does the Department work with or otherwise employ?”

The lawmaker wanted to know the same regarding religious organizations in general. And finally, Hawley asked how many other FBI field offices received guidance related to infiltrating traditional Catholic parishes.

On Monday, Jordan sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray seeking further information concerning the bureau’s Catholic infiltration initiative.

The congressman tweeted, “We now know the FBI, relying on information derived from at least one undercover employee, sought to use local religious organizations as ‘new avenues for tripwire and source development.’ Chilling.”

A version of this article originally appeared on Patriot Project.

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