FBI Director Christopher Wray admitted that the nation’s principal federal law enforcement agency regularly obtains innocent Americans’ personal data from companies with the intent of potentially charging them with crimes.
The confession, which came during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing, confirms the testimony of an FBI whistleblower who told congressional investigators earlier this year that Bank of America sent the federal law enforcement agency a “huge list” of financial records for Americans who used the bank’s credit or debit cards in close proximity to Washington D.C. around the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot. It also confirms a majority of Americans’ suspicions that the FBI is being weaponized against the people it’s sworn to protect.
“George Hill, former FBI supervisory intelligence analyst in the Boston field office, told us that the Bank of America, with no legal process, gave to the FBI gun purchase records with no geographical boundaries for anybody that was a Bank of America customer. Is that true?” Republican Rep. Thomas Massie asked.
“A number of business community partners all the time, including financial institutions, share information with us about possible criminal activity, and my understanding is that that’s fully lawful,” Wray explained.
Hill told investigators that of the customers on its list, Bank of America highlighted at the top of the list those who had ever purchased a firearm with a Bank of America card.
During the hearing, however, Wray insisted that Americans’ personal firearm transaction records were “shared with field offices for information only” and even claimed that data was “recalled to avoid even the appearance of any kind of overreach.”
“My understanding is that that’s a fully lawful process,” Wray repeated.
Hill said previously that the FBI’s D.C. field office, which is at the center of several ongoing weaponization inquiries by Republicans due to conduct including a raid on former President Donald Trump’s Florida home, distributed the data to the agency’s nationwide offices.
The FBI, the retired analyst explained, also encouraged agents to use the transaction records to jump-start and pursue criminal investigations. When agents at branches like the Boston field office refused, Hill said the D.C. field office threatened to go above their heads to their superiors.
Given this information, Massie expressed doubt about Wray’s claims.
“Was there a warrant involved?” he asked.
“Again, my understanding is that the institution in question shared information with us, as happens all the time,” Wray said.
“Did you request the information?” Massie countered.
“I can’t speak to the specifics,” Wray replied.
Massie then disclosed that he was in possession of an email stating that the FBI “did give the search queries to Bank of America” which prompted the bank to hand over the data “without a search warrant.”
“Do you believe there’s any limitation on your ability to obtain gun purchase data or purchase information for people who aren’t suspects from banks without a warrant?” Massie asked.
Wray declined to answer and instead suggested Massie talk to the FBI’s lawyers.
“What I will tell you is that my understanding is that the process by which we receive information from business community partners across a wide variety of industries, including financial institutions, sharing information with us about possible criminal activity is something that is fully lawful under current federal law,” Wray said.
“It may be lawful, but it’s not constitutional,” Massie retorted.