Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., grilled Attorney General Merrick Garland complete nan FBI ambush connected a pro-life Christian man and asked whether nan Department of Justice (DOJ) had an "anti-Catholic bias."
"Our section protects each religions, each ideologies. It does not person immoderate bias against immoderate belief of immoderate kind," Garland said, fielding nan mobility from Hawley during Wednesday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Hawley past characterized nan DOJ arsenic an agency speedy to expend resources and intelligence to beryllium deployed against Catholics while "turning a unsighted eye" arsenic group are executed successful nan streets of American cities.
"Your reply frankly surprises me," Hawley added.
DOJ, FBI TARGETING CATHOLICS AS 'VIOLENT EXTREMISTS' UNDER SCRUTINY BY STATE AGS: 'BIGOTRY' IS 'FESTERING'
U.S. Senator Josh Hawley, R-Mo., asks questions astatine a committee proceeding connected information information astatine Twitter. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
The Missouri legislator past turned his attraction to nan communicative of Mark Houck.
In September, FBI agents arrested Houck successful Kintnersville for allegedly violating nan Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, which makes it a national crime to usage unit pinch nan intent to injure, intimidate and interfere pinch anyone because that personification produces reproductive wellness care.
The apprehension stemmed from Houck's alleged altercation pinch a Planned Parenthood escort successful Philadelphia successful October 2021. Houck was accused of pushing a 72-year-old man aft nan escort allegedly verbally harassed Houck's 12-year-old boy extracurricular nan clinic.
Days aft nan arrest, Hawley sent a letter to Garland, accused him of turning a "local conflict into a nationalist case," and criticized nan FBI for executing nan hunt warrant successful "extreme a mode arsenic 1 tin imagine."
According to an FBI source, nan agents who came to Houck's doorway had guns retired and astatine nan ready, but nan guns were ne'er pointed astatine Houck aliases his family and were lowered aliases holstered arsenic soon arsenic Houck was taken into custody.
"Why did nan FBI do this?" Hawley asked Garland face-to-face during nan Senate hearing. "Why did you nonstop 20-30 SWAT-style agents, SWAT-style squad to this guy's location erstwhile everybody other had declined to prosecute and he offered to move himself in?"
Garland said FBI agents connected nan crushed wished really to prosecute pinch Houck successful nan "safest" and easiest way, adding that agents disagreed pinch Hawley's explanation of what happened astatine nan scene. A elder FBI root antecedently told Fox News that location whitethorn person been 15-20 agents astatine nan segment but denied 25 were there.
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U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said nan FBI denied Sen. Josh Hawley's characterization of nan FBI ambush connected Mark Houck. ( (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images))
Hawley past asked if it was "objectively necessary" based connected established protocol to nonstop agents pinch agelong guns and ballistic shields to nan location wherever Houck's woman and children were astatine nan clip of nan approach.
Garland again stated nan determination was made by FBI agents connected nan ground. When Hawley asked if he was "abdicating responsibility," Garland said no.
"Then springiness maine nan answer. Do you think, successful your opinion, you are nan lawyer wide of nan United States. You are successful complaint of nan Justice Department and yes, sir, you are responsible. So springiness maine an answer."
The 2 went backmost and distant for complete a minute. Hawley many times pushed for an reply from Garland connected whether he thought nan FBI ambush was "reasonable," but Garland punted nan mobility and simply suggested nan facts were not arsenic Hawley described.
"What that nan children weren't there? That location weren't agelong guns there? That location weren't agents? What do you dispute? What's nan actual premise that you dispute?" Hawley said, intelligibly flustered.
Garland yet stated that nan FBI disputed Hawley's explanation of really galore agents were astatine nan segment and what their roles were.
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Pro-life activistic Mark Houck speaks retired aft assemblage acquits him successful Planned Parenthood incident connected 'Hannity.' (Fox News)
"You utilized an unbelievable show of unit pinch guns that I conscionable statement liberals usually decry. We're expected to dislike agelong guns and assault-style weapons. You're happy to deploy them against Catholics and guiltless children. Happy to," Hawley later said. "And past you haul them into tribunal and a assemblage acquits him successful 1 hour. I propose to you that is simply a disgraceful capacity by your Justice Department and a disgraceful usage of resources."
Hawley past said he "noticed a pattern" and referenced a January 23 memorandum from nan FBI section agency successful Richmond, Virginia, that advocated for "the exploration of caller avenues for tripwire and root improvement against traditionalist Catholics."
"Attorney General, are you cultivating sources and spies successful Latin wide parishes and different Catholic parishes crossed nan country?" Hawley asked.
"The Justice Department does not do that and does not do investigations based connected religion. I saw nan archive you sent. It's appalling. It's appalling. I'm successful complete statement pinch you. I understand that nan FBI has withdrawn it and is looking into really this could ever person happened," Garland replied.
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Garland besides called nan archive "inappropriate" and noted it did not bespeak nan methods nan FBI is expected to use. He added that agents should not beryllium relying connected immoderate azygous statement without doing its ain work.
When asked really galore informants nan FBI has successful Catholic churches crossed America, Garland said, "I don't know, and I don't judge we person immoderate informants aimed astatine Catholic churches. We person a norm against investigations based connected First Amendment activity."
Later he said, "I don't cognize specifically" really galore sources are embedded successful Catholic churches.
Nikolas Lanum is an subordinate editor for Fox News Digital.