The FBI said its interviews of a Catholic priest and choir director were conducted during an investigation of ‘an individual threatening violence who has since been arrested,’ and not a broader probe into Catholics.
The FBI’s comment comes after the House Judiciary Committee and the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government released a report suggesting the bureau has been investigating Catholic Americans as potential domestic terrorists after an FBI Richmond internal memo, titled ‘Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities.’
The committee stated that the FBI ‘relied on at least one undercover agent to develop its assessment and the FBI even proposed developing sources among the Catholic clergy and church leadership.’ It also said the FBI ‘interviewed a priest and choir director affiliated with a Catholic church in Richmond, Virginia for the memorandum.’
The committee said whistleblower disclosures reveal that the FBI interview of a priest and choir director affiliated with a Catholic church in Richmond, Virginia, was used to ‘inform on the parishioner under investigation.’
But the FBI told Fox News Digital that ‘any characterization that the FBI is targeting Catholics is false.’
The FBI explained that ‘the interviews of the priest and choir director highlighted by the committee’s report were conducted by FBI Richmond during an investigation of an individual threatening violence who has since been arrested.’
‘The interviews were not conducted for the domain perspective as characterized by the report,’ the FBI said.
The FBI has maintained that ‘the intelligence product prepared by one FBI field office did not meet the exacting standards of the FBI and was quickly removed from FBI systems.’
‘An internal review conducted by the FBI found no malicious intent to target Catholics or members of any other religious faith, and did not identify any investigative steps taken as a result of the product,’ the FBI said. ‘The FBI is committed to upholding the constitutional rights of all Americans and we do not conduct investigations based solely on First Amendment protected activity, including religious practices.’
The FBI said it ‘investigates violence, threats of violence, and violations of federal law.’
‘We have provided hundreds of pages of documents and briefings to the Committee to address our findings and the numerous actions we are taking to address identified shortcomings,’ the FBI said.
But House Judiciary Committee spokesman Russell Dye pushed back at the FBI’s denial, maintaining the committee’s findings.
‘The facts speak for themselves,’ Dye told Fox News Digital. ‘Contrary to the FBI’s assertions, the Committee has presented evidence that the FBI’s infamous Catholic memo relied on information from multiple field offices, not just the Richmond Field Office.’
‘The evidence shows that the Richmond Field Office conducted the interviews of a priest and choir director as part of an investigation that served as a basis for the creation of the Catholic memo,’ Dye continued. ‘Whistleblowers have told us that the memo was distributed around the country.’
Dye also said the evidence shows that ‘FBI employees at all levels in the Richmond Field Office, including the office’s top lawyer, saw no concerns with the contents of the memo or its portrayal of faithful Americans.’
‘Worse, the evidence shows that the FBI considered formalizing the memo into an external product,’ Dye said. ‘The FBI’s actions here are inexcusable, period.’
The committee report also states that the basis of the original Richmond memo ‘relied on a single investigation in the Richmond Field Office’s area of responsibility in which the subject ‘self-described’ as a ‘radical-traditionalist Catholic.” But the committee found that FBI employees ‘could not define the meaning of an RTC when preparing, editing, or reviewing the memorandum.’
‘Even so, this single investigation became the basis for an FBI-wide memorandum warning about the dangers of ‘radical’ Catholics,’ the report states.
‘While the FBI claims it ‘does not categorize investigations as domestic terrorism based on the religious beliefs – to include Catholicism – of the subject involved,’ an FBI-wide memorandum originating from the FBI’s Richmond Field Office did just that,’ the report states. ‘Under the guise of tackling the threat of domestic terrorism, the memorandum painted certain ‘radical-traditionalist Catholics’ (RTCs) as violent extremists and proposed opportunities for the FBI to infiltrate Catholic churches as a form of ‘threat mitigation.’’
During a hearing in the Senate Tuesday, FBI Director Wray was pressed on the matter by Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo.
Wray maintained that the interview of the priest and choir director was part of ‘an investigation of a specific individual who was amassing Molotov cocktails and posting about killing people. And it does not surprise me that there were people who knew that subject in that investigation.’
Meanwhile, the committee’s report states that the FBI produced a version of the Richmond memo with fewer redactions than the two previous versions it provided. That version revealed that investigations into Catholic organizations in Los Angeles and Portland fed into the Richmond office memo. The report states that FBI Milwaukee was also involved.
But Wray, during the Senate hearing, said the ‘notion that other field offices were involved is a garble.’
‘And let me explain why,’ Wray said. ‘I mean, why I say that the only involvement of the two other field offices was the Richmond authors of the product, which included two sentences or something or thereabouts, referencing each of these other offices’ cases. And they sent those sentences about the other office cases to them, not the whole product, and asked them, ‘Hey, did we describe your case right?’’
Wray added: ‘That’s all the other offices had. So it was a single field office product, and I stand by that.’
Meanwhile, the report said the documents obtained by the committee’s subpoena show that ‘the FBI singled out Americans who are pro-life, pro-family, and support the biological basis for sex and gender distinction as potential domestic terrorists.’