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.
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Cuomo says he’ll ‘fully cooperate’ with NY AG’s review of sexual harassment claims
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Wednesday that he will “fully cooperate” with the state attorney general’s independent review into sexual harassment allegations made against the currently scandal-ridden governor, saying, “I fully support a woman’s right to come forward.”
Last Wednesday, Lindsey Boylan, who served in his administration for over three years, accused Cuomo of suggesting to her on a 2017 flight that they play strip poker, inappropriate touching, and kissing her on the lips without her consent.
Following Boylan’s accusations, 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett alleged the governor indicated interest in having an affair with her while she was serving in his administration as a health policy adviser. In a Saturday New York Times report, Bennett told the newspaper that Cuomo asked her if she had “ever been with an older man,” adding that “age doesn’t matter” in relationships.
At Wednesday’s press briefing, the Empire State governor addressed the accusations leveled against him over the past seven days by three women and New York Attorney General Letitia James’ (D) independent review into those claims, which she announced on Monday was formally proceeding.
“As you probably know, the attorney general is doing an independent review, and I will fully cooperate with that review,” Cuomo said at the beginning of his statement. “Now, the lawyers say I shouldn’t say anything when you have a pending review until that review is over. I understand that, I’m a lawyer, too. But, I want New Yorkers to hear from me directly on this.”
“First, I fully support a woman’s right to come forward,” the governor began. “And I think it should be encouraged in every way. I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it, and frankly I am embarrassed by it, and that’s not easy to say. But that’s the truth.”
This echoes what Cuomo said in a Sunday statement about the allegations, in which he stated he “may have been insensitive” during his tenure but charged his accusers of misinterpreting his actions, saying, “I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation… I am truly sorry about that.”
During his Wednesday remarks, Cuomo iterated “I never touched anyone inappropriately,” repeated that sentence, then said “I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable” and repeated that one too.
“And I certainly never, ever meant to offend anyone or hurt anyone or cause anyone any pain. That is the last thing I would ever want to do,” he continued. “I ask the people of this state to wait for the facts from the attorney general’s report before forming an opinion. Get the facts, please, before forming an opinion.”
“I also want you to know that I have learned from what has been an incredibly difficult situation for me as well as other people, and I’ve learned an important lesson,” the governor said at the end of his statement. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for whatever pain I caused anyone, I never intended it, and I will be the better for this experience.”
Amid Boylan and Bennett’s allegations, another report of Cuomo sexually harassing a woman has cropped up. On Monday, a woman named Anna Ruch accused the governor of placing his hands on her cheeks—without her consent—at a 2019 wedding reception and asking if he could kiss her. A photograph of the two together at the event has also been circulating on social media.
Asked at Wednesday’s briefing about the pictures that have resurfaced of him being touchy with people, particularly that of him and Ruch, the governor claimed that it is his way of greeting people.
“I understand the opinion of—and feelings of—Ms. Ruch,” Cuomo said. “You can find hundreds of pictures of me making the same gesture with hundreds of people—women, children, men, etc. You can go find hundreds of pictures of me kissing people. […] It is my usual and customary way of greeting.”
Moreover, the governor said that his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, would do the same thing.
“By the way, it was my father’s way of greeting people,” Cuomo said, explaining, “You’re the governor of the state, you want people to feel comfortable, you want to reach out to them.”
He also mentioned that he kisses and hugs legislators and noted that at an event in Queens the other day he hugged pastors and state assembly members.
Furthermore, the governor said that his intent “doesn’t matter,” saying, “What it matters is if anybody was offended by it.”
“But if they were offended by it, then it was wrong,” he added, going on to say that if they were offended or hurt by it, he apologizes.
You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.
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