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