WASHINGTON ― Republicans are praising an FBI agent who said he was suspended by the agency for refusing to participate in cases related to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) this week demanded FBI Director Christopher Wray reinstate special agent Stephen Friend, describing him as a whistleblower who revealed improper practices in the FBI investigation of the Capitol riot.
“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,” Grassley and Johnson wrote in a letter to Wray.
House Republicans have also championed Friend’s complaints. On Thursday, they accused the FBI of retaliating against a whistleblower “who has made protected disclosures to Congress” ― an apparent reference to Friend.
As Friend tells it, however, he was put on leave for refusing to do his job before he contacted lawmakers.
In a declaration that the Republican senators posted online this week, the Jacksonville, Florida, special agent alleged that the FBI has followed “atypical procedure” by having a Jan. 6 task force in Washington, D.C., assign regional field offices to arrest riot suspects without giving local agents enough control of the process. Agents in Washington, Friend said, signed off on search and arrest warrant affidavits “for subjects whom I have never investigated or even interviewed but am listed as a ‘Case Agent.’”
But for Friend, it wasn’t just that the agency hasn’t followed proper procedure ― it was that he didn’t think the cases should be brought at all. Friend said that some Jan. 6 defendants are innocent, that they have been unfairly prosecuted and too-harshly sentenced, that they spend too long in jail and they can’t get a fair trial in Washington.
He complained in August to his front-line supervisor about an impending arrest of a Jan. 6 suspect, saying a SWAT raid would be too aggressive and that “the subject would likely face extended detainment and biased jury pools in Washington D.C.,” echoing the complaints of defense attorneys for other Jan. 6 suspects facing trial.
“I told him that I was going to refuse to participate in any J6 cases,” Friend wrote.
A few days later, Friend sat down with a higher-up in the Jacksonville office to whom he complained that “irregular case dissemination, labeling and management processes” amounted to exculpatory evidence that prosecutors would be required to share with defendants.
“I expressed my concerns about violating citizens’ Sixth Amendment rights due [to] overzealous charging by the DOJ and biased jury pools in Washington D.C.,” Friend wrote, adding that he thought the FBI’s actions reminded him of the infamous 1992 Ruby Ridge case, an 11-day siege at a family’s cabin in Boundary County, Idaho.
His supervisor told him it’s not the FBI’s job to determine if an individual should be prosecuted, since that’s up to the U.S. attorney’s office. But Friend said that wasn’t true, citing former FBI Director James Comey’s October 2016 announcement that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring charges against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the email case.
Asked if he thought Jan. 6 rioters committed crimes, Friend said he believed “some of the people who entered the Capitol committed crimes, but others were innocent” and that “some innocent individuals had been unjustly prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced.” He repeated his prior statement that he would not participate in any Jan. 6 cases, and a few hours later he was told he’d be placed on leave.
Every Jan. 6 rioter who entered the Capitol committed a crime. More than 750 people have been charged with unlawfully entering restricted grounds, according to the latest Justice Department summary. Some 269 have been charged with assaulting or resisting police. About 80 have pleaded guilty to felonies and 300 have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors.
Friend also said in his declaration that the FBI took him off child sexual abuse cases and put him on domestic terrorism to handle Jan. 6 cases, prompting House Republicans, led by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), to complain the FBI is ignoring sexual predators in favor of conducting political witch hunts.
Grassley and Johnson ignored Friend’s characterization of the rioters in his statement. Instead, in their letter to Wray, they demanded that the FBI return his badge and his gun and hand over any records related to his case.
HuffPost asked Grassley on Thursday about Friend’s statements that some rioters are innocent and could face unfair trials. The Iowa Republican did not have much to say.
“What we do in our investigations, we just keep on it till we get to the bottom of it,” Grassley said. “And obviously, we just started that, so I can’t give you much information.”