In a blistering letter accusing FBI leadership of retaliating against a protected whistleblower, the ranking members of two powerful Senate committees have warned Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray to step in immediately to shield suspended Special Agent Steve Friend from unlawful reprisals after he filed a complaint with the inspector general last week alleging FBI wrongdoing in domestic terrorism cases.
In the letter sent Monday, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) — ranking members of the Judiciary Committee and the Permanent Subcommittee for Investigations, respectively — questioned why the FBI suspended Friend without pay last week and demanded that “all other forms of reprisal against him for his protected whistleblowing activity are immediately stopped.”
“The FBI should immediately cease the disciplinary actions it is actively taking to punish Special Agent Friend for his protected whistleblowing activity,” the senators wrote. wrote. “These unwarranted actions only serve to chill other employees from reporting wrongdoing, and demonstrate a complete and utter failure by agency leaders to obey the letter and intent of federal whistleblower protection laws.”
“The alleged actions by FBI senior leadership are unacceptable and send exactly the wrong message.
“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…
“Under federal whistleblower laws, employees of the Federal Government have not only a right but a responsibility to report evidence of potential wrongdoing. That is precisely what Special Agent Friend has done.”
After raising his concerns with his FBI supervisors, Special Agent Friend made legally protected whistleblower disclosures to the Office of Special Counsel as well as the Office of the Inspector General.
Republican legislators have claimed that more than 20 FBI whistleblowers have come forward with similar allegations of politicization and wrongdoing at the FBI.
Grassley and Johnson said that Friend contacted their offices “alleging breaches of FBI policy . . . in active domestic terrorism assessments” and told them that “when he raised these concerns with his FBI supervisors . . . they questioned whether he had a future with the FBI. They later suspended his security clearance and escorted him out of his assigned FBI Field Office.”
As The Post reported last week, Friend, a member of an FBI SWAT team in Florida, was declared absent without leave (AWOL), and his pay was docked for refusing to participate in SWAT raids that he believed violated FBI policy and were a use of excessive force against J6 subjects suspects accused of misdemeanor offenses.
His supervisors allegedly told him that he was being a “bad teammate” and warned that his objections “could amount to insubordination.”
“Ultimately, rather than reassigning Special Agent Friend . . . FBI leadership apparently made the choice to retaliate against and make an example of him,” the letter said. Grassley and Johnson,
The senators noted that the FBI suspended Friend was suspended “FBI leadership suspended Special Agent Friend without pay and suspended his security clearance “without providing any evidence that he poses a legitimate security risk. They also confiscated his credentials, firearm, and badge, and escorted him out of the FBI field office.”
The letter is attached to a copy of Friend’s 10-page whistleblower complaint and goes on to outline his allegations, including that:
- Contrary to FBI policy, cases involving the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, have been farmed out to FBI field offices around the US “even though the alleged crimes occurred in Washington, DC.” [and] a FBI Washington Field Office (WFO) task force reserved authority for actually managing the cases and completing a majority of the investigative work.”
- While the DC task force “is responsible for making critical investigative decisions and conducting investigative work, the case file is associated with an FBI agent and supervisors based in a different FBI field office who may have only limited involvement in key decisions relating to the case. In other words, the FBI’s records don’t reflect reality.”
- Case agents in far-flung field offices are being directed by required to perform investigative actions at the direction of the Washington Field Office task force to investigate cases that “they would not otherwise pursue.”
- FBI leadership told field offices personnel to interview suspected participants in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot suspects “even though there was no direct evidence that they were in Washington, DC on January 6” — and to use “aggressive tactics, such as SWAT teams, when apprehending suspects accused of non-violent misdemeanors.” even in cases where those suspects were represented by counsel and cooperating with the Government’s requests for information.”
- Cases that are being handled “in this unusual manner” fall under the category of domestic terrorism, an area currently “prioritized by FBI leadership that also brings additional financial resources to support field office operations”.
- Friend brought concerns about breaches of policy and protocol to his FBI supervisors, saying that “irregular case dissemination, labeling, and management processes could be considered exculpatory evidence [that] must be disclosed to defendants in accordance with the Brady rule.”
The Senators have demanded a copy of “all records” related to the Justice Department response to Friend’s allegations about the Washington Field Office.