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FBI employees testify on GOP politicization claims after losing clearances

May 18, 2023, 5:04 PM | Updated: 5:36 pm

Ranking Member Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-V.I., accompanied by Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, speaks dur...

Ranking Member Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-V.I., accompanied by Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, speaks during a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on what Republicans say is the politicization of the FBI and Justice Department and attacks on American civil liberties, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former FBI employees accused the bureau of politicization in congressional testimony Thursday, a day after the agency disclosed that two of the men had seen their security clearances revoked over concerns about how their views of the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021, affected their work.

The three men alleged overreach and retaliation by the FBI in testimony to a special House committee investigating what Republicans assert is the “weaponization” of the federal government against conservatives.

“If you’re not politically correct … you’re not in line with what they think to be the political position or the proper position, you’re the target,” Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the Republican chairman of the committee, said in his opening statement.

Former FBI employees Marcus Allen and Steve Friend testified to the panel just hours after the FBI informed Jordan in a letter Wednesday — obtained by The Associated Press — that both men had been stripped of security clearances after either attending the Capitol riot in 2021 or espousing alternate theories about the attack.

A mob of pro-Trump rioters, some armed with pipes, bats and bear spray, charged into the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, quickly overrunning overwhelmed police officers trying to keep them back. More than 100 police officers were injured, many beaten, bloodied and bruised. Over 1,000 people have been prosecuted in the Jan. 6 attack on a range of charges from low-level misdemeanors for those who only entered the Capitol to felony seditious conspiracy charges against far-right extremists.

“My colleagues have brought in these former agents, men who lost their security clearances because they were a threat to our national security,” said Rep. Stacey Plaskett, the top Democrat on the committee. “People who out of malice or ignorance or both have put partisan agenda above the oath they swore to serve this country and protect its national security.”

Jordan and other Republicans on the committee hailed the former FBI employees as rank-and-file patriots who were facing retribution for speaking out against government abuse. Allen, Friend and Garrett O’Boyle, a former field agent, shared stories with the committee about how they said their decision to come forward has resulted in suspensions and dismissals for their posts.

“My oath did not include sacrificing the hopes, dreams and livelihood of my family,” said O’Boyle.

Many of them testified about their personal struggles, including not being able to find employment elsewhere and struggling to support their loved ones and young children while their cases were being investigated.

“I sacrificed my dream job to share this information with the American people,” Friend testified. “I humbly ask all the members to do your jobs and consider the merit of what I have presented.”

But Democrats dismissed the testimony, calling the hearing another attempt by Republicans on the committee to help former president Donald Trump.

“This select committee is a clearinghouse for testing conspiracy theories for Donald Trump to use in his 2024 presidential campaign,” Plaskett added.

The letter from the FBI detailed how Friend refused to participate in a SWAT team arrest of a suspect in the Jan. 6 insurrection while serving in Florida, and “espoused an alternative narrative” about the attack. Friend maintained the show of force wasn’t needed.

Allen, a former operations specialist at the FBI field office in Charlotte, North Carolina, also backed “alternative theories” about Jan. 6 to co-workers multiple times, even after his supervisor told him to stop, according to the FBI letter. Allen disputed those findings, and a lawyer for both men cast suspension of their security clearances as retaliation against whistleblowers.

“I’m hopeful that scrutiny from Congress and from the inspector general will deter the FBI from abusing the security clearance process to retaliate against others the way it’s retaliated against me,” Allen told the committee.

The FBI, though, has said that of the nearly 80,000 staff at the agency, only 32 currently have their clearances suspended, a clear departure from the GOP claims that retaliation of rank-and-file staff is widespread. That’s according to recently transcribed testimony from Jennifer Leigh Moore, an executive assistant director of human resources at the agency.

A third employee who did not testify had a security clearance revoked after he entered the restricted area around the Capitol himself on Jan. 6, and later provided false or misleading information to investigators about what he did that day, the FBI’s letter said. All three employees can appeal the security clearance decisions.

Two of the former FBI employees who testified, Friend and O’Boyle, acknowledged that they had received money from Kash Patel, a close Trump ally who held multiple roles in his administration and now oversees a charity.

They said they needed that money to support their families after FBI suspensions left them unable to work, but Democrats said those ties show the partisan nature of the “weaponization” investigation.

In a series of contentious exchanges, Democrats complained that one of Thursday’s witnesses, Allen, was only interviewed by Republican lawmakers on the committee. Many pointed to House rules that state minority and majority staff are required to have equal access to witness testimony, regardless of whether it is a whistleblower account or not.

Since January, House Democrats on both the select and Judiciary committees have accused Jordan and GOP lawmakers of stonewalling them from several transcribed interviews, refusing to allow them into the room or provide official transcripts or videos of the interviews after the fact.

“We’re in the dark. That’s not how Congress works. That’s not how committees work,” said Democratic Rep. Dan Goldman of New York.

The investigation by the select committee has also encompassed social media companies and other large businesses. Republicans on the committee released a report before the hearing with new allegations against the FBI, including that Bank of America had given data to the FBI on all of their customers who made transactions in Washington, D.C., in the days around Jan. 6.

Lawmakers played video testimony from George Hill, a retired FBI National Security Intelligence supervisor, who told the committee about the list after seeing it in the system, although he said he never opened it. Bank of America provided the information to the FBI voluntarily, according to Hill’s testimony, though it remained unclear whether and how the agency may have used the data.

Bank of America issued a brief statement to The Associated Press, saying it follows the law to “narrowly respond” to law enforcement requests, but it did not directly answer whether it shared the customer data with the FBI.

“We don’t comment on our communications with law enforcement,” bank spokesperson Naomi Patton said. “The report’s suggestion that Bank of America proactively searched our data for broad types of customer behavior, such as making any purchase in a specific city on a specific day, did not occur.”

Democrats have said Hill was among the former FBI employees who are “deeply biased,” citing social media posts where some committee witnesses have referred to Jan. 6 as a “setup.”

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Associated Press writer Ken Sweet in New York contributed to this report.

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FBI employees testify on GOP politicization claims after losing clearances