Republicans are putting the Biden intelligence chiefs on notice that their agencies are moving dangerously close to spying on Americans in the U.S.
They raised concerns on Thursday at a House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing featuring President Biden’s five top intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray.
The fears stem from both the past and the present.
In 2016, the FBI began investigating the Donald Trump campaign, with many of the leads coming from a discredited dossier that was sourced to the Kremlin and purchased by the Democratic Party. Subsequently, all Trump-Russian conspiracy charges from dossier author Christopher Steele were shown to be inaccurate, according to government and congressional investigations.
In March, Ms. Haines released a report, “Domestic Violent Extremism Poses Heightened Threat in 2021.” Some Republicans believe it was part of a Biden administration plan, in the wake of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot by Trump supporters, to broad-brush conservatives as domestic threats.
“The Democrats see political benefits in characterizing wide swaths of American citizens particularly Republicans and conservatives as politically suspect, politically violent and deserving of government surveillance,” said Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the panel’s top Republican. “However, I will remind those assembled here today that our intelligence community exists solely to counteract foreign threats.”
He added, “As for the leaders of the intelligence community, I hope you plan on spending a reasonable amount of time in upcoming years on activities other than investigating conservatives and spying on Republican presidential campaigns.”
The FBI conducted a year’s worth of wiretaps on Trump volunteer Carter Page. A judge would not have approved the spying without the dossier as evidence, an inspector general’s report found.
FBI agents also tailed retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a campaign adviser, to see if he met with Russia-connected agents. He did not. The FBI also sent agents to brief him and candidate Trump on world threats. But the visit was actually part of the bureau’s Russia investigation.
In the end, special counsel Robert Mueller said he did not establish a Trump-Kremlin conspiracy to interfere in the 2016 election.
Mr. Nunes spearheaded a Republican members letter on March 18 to Ms. Haines. They complained about the DNI heading a report into domestic extremism, an FBI mission.
In particular, the group objected to the DNI using the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC), which focuses on foreign threats, to provide analysis.
“Republicans feel like they’ve been targeted, and you hear that every single day when we’re out with our constituents,” Mr. Nunes said at the hearing. “And it’s up to you, Director Haines, really as the leader to ensure that this stops and it ends. But it seems like it’s getting worse.”
Ms. Haines addressed the NCTC issue when questioned by Rep. Chris Stewart, Utah Republican.
She agreed that the counter terror center participated in the study and “added to it.”
But, Ms. Haines said, the center “has the statutory authority to receive domestic intelligence, so it’s not collecting it, but it’s receiving it.”
She further described the intelligence community’s role as not “involved in collecting and focused on domestic intelligence … but rather to provide analysis based on what has been collected by our domestic mission partners and to support them in their work in effect.”
Mr. Stewart replied, “I have to tell you, director, I just disagree with you. And I think the American people should be scared to death of this. That we have now crossed what I believe is a Rubicon where you’re saying to the CIA help us look at domestic terrorism.”
Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat, was a big supporter of the Steele dossier that is so condemned by Mr. Nunes.
At the hearing, Mr. Schiff applauded the intelligence community.
“I take a very different view of the professionals within the IC and within the FBI, who I think are consummate professionals and to whom we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude through these turbulent times,” he said. “They’ve kept their head down. They’ve done their work.”