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Sens. Lee, Hawley grill Wray over geolocation data and the FBI reportedly working with banks in Jan. 6 probe

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Republican Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Josh Hawley (Mo.) pressed FBI Director Christopher Wray about reports of the bureau using cell phone and bank data in its investigation of the deadly January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

During Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, the two Republican senators grilled the FBI director over geolocation data, with Wray saying he was not able to provide specific answers to their inquiries.

“I’m anxious to see those who committed unlawful, violent acts on January 6 brought to justice,” Lee said at the start of his questioning of Wray. “I also believe that […] with this circumstance, like every other circumstance, we have to make sure that the civil liberties of the American people are protected.”

“I’ve heard a number of accounts of individuals who were present in Washington, D.C. but never got anywhere near the Capitol or any violence on January 6 who have inexplicably been contacted by the FBI by agents who apparently were aware of their presence in Washington, D.C. that day—with no other explanation, perhaps, other than the use of geolocation data,” the Utah Republican continued, then asking: “Are you geolocating people, through the FBI, based on where they were on January 6?”

“I think there may be some instances in which geolocation has been an investigative tool, but I can’t speak to any specific situation,” Wray replied.

“But what are you using to do that?” Lee asked. “What’s your basis for authority? Are you using national security letters?”

Wray said, “I don’t believe in any instance we’re using national security letters for investigation of the Capitol—”

“Did you go to the FISA court?” Lee asked, cutting him off.

“I don’t remotely believe FISA is remotely implicated in our investigation,” Wray told Lee.

“Are you using warrants predicated on probable cause?” the senator inquired.

“We certainly have executed a number of warrants in the course of the investigation of January 6,” said Wray. “All of our investigative work in response to the Capitol [riot] has been under the legal authorities that we have in consultation with the [Department of Justice] and the prosecutors.”

Toward the end of Lee’s questioning of Wray, the FBI director offered his assistance regarding legislative ideas that would affect FISA.

“Well, Senator, I’d be happy to work with you to provide a sort of operational assessment of the impact of different legislative ideas,” Wray said. “Certainly, we view our responsibility as not just to protect the American people, but also to uphold the Constitution.”

Wray added, “And we say that every day in the FBI. Certainly, I would want to make sure that any legislative changes to FISA didn’t have unintended, very damaging impact on everything from our sharing of information with our foreign partners, our intelligence community partners; that we didn’t elevate the standard in FISA above the level of what we could get, for example, in an ordinary criminal case—things like that.”

Following his exchange with Wray, Lee called on the FBI director to provide answers regarding geolocation data.

“The FBI has repeatedly opposed efforts to rein in its domestic-surveillance authority under FISA, the PATRIOT Act, and other provisions of federal law,” Lee’s Twitter account posted. “I call upon FBI Director Christopher Wray to give us answers regarding FBI’s collection of geolocation data, and to stop opposing bipartisan legislation designed to protect the constitutional rights of American citizens.”

When Hawley began his questioning, citing Lee’s questions regarding geolocation data, the Missouri Republican asked Wray to elaborate on the answers he gave.

“So when it comes to geolocation data specifically—again, not in a specific instance, but just even the use of geolocation data—I would not be surprised to learn—but I do not know for a fact—that we were using geolocation data under any situation with connection with the investigation of [January 6],” Wray explained. “But again, we do use geolocation data under different authorities and specific instances.”

“Because this is such a sprawling investigation, that would not surprise me. When it comes to metadata, which is a little bit different obviously than geolocation data, I feel confident that we are using various legal authorities to look at metadata under a variety of situations,” the FBI director continued. “But again, the specifics of when, under what circumstances, with whom—that kind of thing I’m not in a position to testify about, with the sprawl and size of the investigation and certainly not in a congressional hearing.”

Hawley then asked Wray to clarify which authorities he was referencing, to which Wray replied that there are “various forms of legal process we can serve on companies that will allow us to get access”.

Citing media reports that the bureau has worked with banks during the investigation and that some banks, specifically Bank of America, may have handed over data of over 200 clients who made purchases in the Washington, D.C. area, Hawley asked, “What do you know about this? Has Bank of America voluntarily turned over information to the bureau about its customers?”

RELATED: Bank of America giving federal agencies customer data to help hunt for Capitol extremists: Tucker Carlson

“I don’t know any of the specifics, so I’d have to look into that,” Wray replied.

Asked if the FBI has requested similar information from other companies, the FBI director said the bureau works with private sector parters, including financial institutions, sometimes and in a variety of ways but that he could not provide an answer about the January 6 investigation specifically.

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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Shanghai: China’s Potemkin Village

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Following a recent outbreak of COVID-19, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has imposed a month-long draconian lockdown on the residents of Shanghai. The CCP has used the outbreak to persecute its own citizens, including through forced evictions and quarantines, and placing alarms on doors to prevent COVID-19 people from leaving their homes. The harsh measures have resulted in food and healthcare shortages and separation of families.

But of course, we wouldn’t know that by reading the CCP-run press readily available in the United States. Instead of presenting the facts, the CCP engages in a comprehensive propaganda campaign that props up Shanghai as a Chinese Potemkin village. The CCP media asserts that China’s actions in Shanghai are benevolent and wise, while Western criticism is a product of malice. Chinese state-run media also insists that the Shanghai lockdown promotes economic stability in China and the world.

Claim 1: China Has the Best Policy for Combating COVID-19

The CCP media portray the Shanghai lockdown as the best and ideal policy. As cited by a XinhuaNet editorial, “China’s dynamic zero-COVID approach” is “the best option to save lives,” according to a “Rwandan researcher and publisher,” “…a miracle for us to learn,” according to a Kenyan scholar, and “a very ideal response,” according to Ethiopia’s National COVID-19 Response Task Force Coordinator. According to CCP media, Chinese citizens have greeted the Shanghai lockdown warmly, even with “[a] mixed sense of intensity, unity and hopefulness,” according to China Daily.

Claim 2: The West Hypocritically Defames China

The CCP press also accuses the West of lying about the Shanghai lockdown, and using COVID policies for nefarious ends. According to XinhuaNet, “Shanghai…has never imposed what Western media described as a ‘lockdown.’” Other CCP editorials actually accuse the West of malice. One Global Times editorial claims that the lockdown “has been deliberately exaggerated by the West.” Another Global Times editorial asserts that the Western approach of “coexisting with the virus” amounts to a way “…to drive out a large number of the vulnerable people with low immunity,” and a form of “cruel social Darwinism.”

Claim 3: China’s COVID Policies Result in an Economic Windfall to China and the World

The CCP also portrays the lockdown as necessary to achieve great economic growth in China and beyond. One Global Times editorial, while conceding that the lockdown amounted to a “sealing-off,” it is “a temporary measure to better resume work and production and to make the economy and society function more effectively. Its effectiveness has been proven.” According to another Global Times editorial, China’s policy is “widely considered to be the best strategy…to both contain the epidemic and ensure stable economic development.”

In an Orwellian fashion, Chinese press claims that China is solving, not causing, the world’s economic problems. According to XinhuaNet, “China has played a decisive role in stabilizing the global economy and resuming the supply chain disrupted by COVID-19.” Citing a Bloomberg article, the same XinhuaNet editorial claims that China “has prevented a huge number of deaths at home and ensured that everything from iPhones and Teslas to fertilizer and car parts continues to flow to the rest of the world.” Chinese citizens, of course, are collateral damage: Ji Qiwei, vice-general manager of SAIC Motor Passenger Vehicle, stated that “The domestic market may be impacted a little by the COVID-19 outbreak this year, but our export market will continue to see strong growth,” according to China Daily.

While the world continues to suffer economic and human damage as a result of COVID-19, China continues to revise history regarding its role. Through its propaganda in its English publications of Xinhua, China Daily, and Global Times, China seeks to portray itself as a benevolent force in the fight against the virus.

You can follow Steve Postal on Twitter @HebraicMosaic

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