The chair of the House Judiciary Committee has subpoenaed FBI Director Christopher Wray for all records relating to a leaked internal memo that proposed developing sources in traditionalist Catholic parishes to inform on potential “violent extremists” in such houses of worship.
In an April 10 letter (pdf) attached to the subpoena, Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) noted that the committee’s investigation of that Jan. 23 memo, which has since been repudiated by the FBI, had revealed that it was produced by at least one undercover agent and that, despite leadership’s claims to the contrary, the bureau intended to act on the memo’s recommendations.
“Based on the limited information produced by the FBI to the Committee, we now know that the FBI relied on at least one undercover agent to produce its analysis, and that the FBI proposed that its agents engage in outreach to Catholic parishes to develop sources among the clergy and church leadership to inform on Americans practicing their faith,” Jordan wrote to Wray. “This shocking information reinforces our need for all responsive documents, and the Committee is issuing a subpoena to you to compel your full cooperation.”
On Feb. 9—one day after the memo was leaked on the UncoverDC website—the FBI’s national office disavowed the document in a statement provided to The Epoch Times, stating that its broad assumptions about a link between traditionalist Catholics and violent extremists “does not meet the exacting standards of the FBI.”
“Upon learning of the document, FBI Headquarters quickly began taking action to remove the document from FBI systems and conduct a review of the basis for the document,” the FBI National Press Office stated. “The FBI is committed to sound analytic tradecraft and to investigating and preventing acts of violence and other crimes while upholding the constitutional rights of all Americans and will never conduct investigative activities or open an investigation based solely on First Amendment protected activity.”
Likewise, during a March hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Wray himself condemned the memo and said the FBI’s Inspection Division had been ordered to look into the matter.
“I will note it was a product by one field office, which, of course, we have scores and scores of these products,” he said. “And when we found out about it, we took action.
“We’re also taking steps to reinforce with our workforce all of the long-standing policies we have that speak to this kind of thing. We’ve got refresher training for the relevant employees, etc. And we do not and will not target people for religious beliefs, and we do not and will not monitor people’s religious practices.”
However, Jordan noted on April 10 that those claims were contradicted by both the memo and information the FBI had provided to the Judiciary Committee in its “substandard and partial response” to the committee’s inquiries.
“Although the FBI claims to have ‘numerous’ and ‘rigorous’ policies to protect First Amendment rights, the FBI’s Richmond document plainly undercuts these assertions,” he wrote. “The document itself shows that its contents, including its proposal to develop sources in Catholic churches, were reviewed and approved by two senior intelligence analysts and even the local Chief Division Counsel.”
The congressman also noted that the proposed outreach plans included contacting “mainline Catholic parishes” and “diocesan leadership” and “[leveraging] existing sources and/or [initiating] Type 5 Assessments to develop new sources with the placement and access” to report on suspicious activity.
“Americans attend church to worship and congregate for their spiritual and personal betterment,” Jordan wrote. “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.”
According to Jordan, whistleblowers have attested that the memo was shared with field offices around the country, although it remains unclear to the committee how many agents may have acted on its proposals.
FBI officials didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.