FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate faced tough questioning from Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Hawley expressed shock when Abbate provided an estimate of how many Americans the Bureau had “unintentionally” spied on. The exchange took place while discussing the FBI’s reluctance to release a 1023 form related to President Joe Biden’s alleged foreign business dealings, with Abbate citing concerns for the safety of the document’s source.
Hawley confronted Abbate about the FBI’s abuse of authority and targeting of political opponents, specifically referring to the FISA court’s findings that the Bureau had conducted around 278,000 unwarranted queries on Americans, which may have been illegal. Abbate acknowledged that the compliance incident was unacceptable and stated that individuals involved would be handled through the disciplinary process. Hawley demanded to know who had been fired for the 278,000 illegal queries, prompting Abbate to mention firing individuals in past unintentional instances.
The senator sought clarification on the meaning of the “unintentional instance” and pressed Abbate on the 278,000 queries. Hawley expressed visible shock upon learning that the FBI believed the vast majority of those queries were unintentional. The exchange continued with Hawley challenging Abbate’s changing statements, questioning whether the Bureau truly knew the details. The focus then shifted to the firing of individuals involved in the Carter Page warrant, an issue of concern raised by Hawley.
It should be noted that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court found that the FBI had conducted improper searches in a database nearly 300,000 times between 2020 and early 2021, including searches on Americans suspected of criminal activity. These searches occurred during investigations into the January 6 riots and the George Floyd protests.
The exchange between Hawley and Abbate shed light on the concerns surrounding the FBI’s actions and potential abuse of authority. Hawley’s persistent questioning sought answers regarding accountability and the implications of such extensive queries on American citizens. The revelations of the FISA court’s findings further fueled concerns about the potential infringement on civil liberties and the need for greater transparency and accountability within the FBI.