A former top FBI official has backed out of scheduled testimony with the House Judiciary Committee to address claims that the Biden administration pressured agents to label cases as domestic extremism or white supremacy, the panel’s top Republican said.
Jill Sanborn, former assistant director of the FBI Counterterrorism Division and executive assistant of its National Security Branch, was scheduled to sit down on Friday for a transcribed interview with members of the Judiciary Committee.
But the committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, said in a letter late Thursday that Ms. Sanborn backed away at the last minute from her commitment to testify. She had agreed in October to appear before the panel.
In a letter to Ms. Sanborn‘s attorney, Mr. Jordan said her decision gives “rise to concerns about your stated intentions to willingly cooperate.” He said lawmakers will have no choice but to subpoena her once Republicans take control of the House next month if she continues to decline.
“Although your current attorney has professed that you have ‘sought to cooperate with our oversight,’ your actions over the past four months show a pattern of obstruction and a failure to take accountability for your actions,” Mr. Jordan wrote. “Your decision leaves us little choice but to consider compulsory process to obtain your testimony early in the 118th Congress.”
Ms. Sanborn‘s attorney, Carter Burwell, responded to Mr. Jordan on Friday alleging that the Department of Justice and FBI have not cleared his client to testify before Congress. He said their approval is necessary because she will be speaking about sensitive FBI matters.
“Ms. Sanborn understands she is obligated to coordinate any transcribed interview with the FBI and DOJ, especially given the request necessarily raises issues related to classified information, ongoing criminal investigations and long-recognized privileges,” Mr. Burwell wrote. “At this time, the DOJ has not yet agreed to Ms. Sanborn‘s participation in any ‘voluntary’ transcribed interview, especially in the absence of agency counsel.”
A Justice Department spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Burwell also said that his client “vigorously denies” allegations made by the whistleblowers who alleged she inflated domestic violent extremism (DVE) numbers under pressure from the White House.
“Ms. Sanborn was never involved in any attempt to inappropriately emphasize or inflate the DVE threat,” Mr. Burwell wrote. “At no time did she ever pressure any of her subordinates to inappropriately classify any investigation as DVE-related or to manipulate threat statistics.”
Mr. Jordan is set to lead the House Judiciary Committee when Republicans rise to the House majority in the new Congress.
He has warned Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray that he plans to call them before his panel to testify on perceived bias and whether the Biden administration used resources to investigate parents who aired their concerns at school board meetings.
The FBI has responded to some of the GOP’s inquiries.
Jill Tyson, assistant director of the FBI’s Office of Congressional Affairs, pushed back on accusations of bias and defended the FBI‘s professionalism and protocols in a letter to Mr. Jordan on Thursday.
“It is important to emphasize that allegations against one or a very small number of employees do not reflect a widespread political bias or a lack of objectivity by the FBI‘s 38,000 employees who perform their jobs objectively, rigorously, and with professionalism,” she wrote in the letter obtained by Punchbowl News. “Nor do such allegations fairly call into question the FBI‘s motivations and actions to fulfill its mission, which reflect the collective judgment and effort of our workforce.”
Ms. Tyson said the FBI has adequate procedures in place to punish employees who stray from their obligations — “including employee actions that create the appearance of political, social or other bias” — while protecting those who are concerned about bureau conduct.
“The FBI takes all allegations of misconduct very seriously, and that includes taking seriously our responsibility to FBI employees who make protected disclosures under the whistleblower regulations,” she wrote.
Mr. Jordan said Ms. Sanborn, meanwhile, backed out of her testimony after she sought legal guidance from the Department of Justice and Democrats on the Judiciary Committee.
Mr. Jordan wrote: “We reiterate that to the extent that the [Department of Justice] or FBI is or has been preventing your ability to respond to our request in a timely and comprehensive manner, we will examine these facts during your transcribed interview. Simply put, although the department and FBI likely would not welcome your testimony, your decision to voluntarily appear for a transcribed interview is your decision and yours alone. You have chosen not to do so.”
An FBI whistleblower said this year that Ms. Sanborn was among those in the FBI who allegedly pushed agents to reclassify cases to meet internal bureau metrics in order to make the threat from right-wing and supremacist groups seem larger than was the case.
Committee Republicans responded by sending a letter to Ms. Sanborn asking her to explain what happened, saying it’s critical to their investigation into “the politicization of the FBI.”
Current and former FBI agents told The Washington Times last month that top bureau leaders “have already determined that white supremacy is a problem” and are reclassifying cases to fit that narrative.
“We are sort of the lapdogs as the actual agents doing these sorts of investigations, trying to find a crime to fit otherwise First Amendment-protected activities,” one whistleblower told The Times. “If they have a Gadsden flag and they own guns and they are mean at school board meetings, that’s probably a domestic terrorist.”
The FBI has denied targeting groups or people based on their political views, and says it focuses only on those “who commit or intend to commit violence and criminal activity that constitutes a federal crime or poses a threat to national security.”
In the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, protest at the U.S. Capitol, the Department of Justice created a unit focused on domestic extremism. A DOJ official testified earlier this year that the number of domestic extremists has doubled since 2020.