Free Speech Matt Taibbi Media

In FBI Case, the First Amendment Takes Another Bizarre Hit

The same Democratic minority staff that trashed the First Amendment in last week's Twitter Files hearings put something amazing in writing in a parallel case.
Ranking member Stacey Plaskett, left, co-authored a Judiciary Committee minority report about would-be FBI whistleblowers

By Matt Taibbi / Racket News

Racket readers may recall that in November, shortly before the Twitter Files began, I ran an interview with Steve Friend, a onetime FBI agent who lost his career after blowing the whistle on the Bureau. 

Friend refused to participate in a bureaucratic scheme to put local agents across the country in charge of J6 cases that were really being run out of the Washington office, a plan that made one Washington-based case look like a national map full of domestic terror cases popping up everywhere. He also objected to heavy-handed tactics like the use of S.W.A.T. teams for a suspect communicating voluntarily through an attorney, and the questioning of people in connection with J6 in cases where the state had little to no evidence. From that story:

Friend didn’t think the interview was warranted, and worried the feds showing up at someone’s door without cause “might do more harm than good” in a part of the country where government was unpopular already. He sucked it up and did the “knock and talk” anyway.

“I said, ‘Hey, were you at the Capitol?’” Friend recalls. “And he said, ‘No, that was my son’s funeral that day. I wasn’t there.’”

He shakes his head. “It hit me like a ton of bricks. I thought, I can’t believe I just made this guy relive that. And for what? Even if he’d admitted to being there, if he said, ‘I was there, I don’t wanna talk about it,’ I couldn’t even charge that.”

But even though Friend had reservations about some of the cases, his main concern was procedural — that by playing bureaucratic games with who was running these investigations, and putting locals nominally in charge of cases where they were really in supporting roles, they put all of the court cases in jeopardy. “A lot of these guys are bad dudes, and they should go to jail,” he said, about the Oath Keepers. But if “we didn’t follow our rules… we set ourselves up to get crushed at trial,” adding, “I want to win.”

Support our Independent Journalism — Donate Today!

A little over a week ago, the same Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of Government that organized the Twitter Files hearings privately heard testimony from Steve and two other FBI whistleblowers. The Democratic Party response to Steve and his colleagues was eerily similar to tactics pulled out against myself and Mike Shellenberger:

— Mike and I were not real journalists, they said, but “so-called journalists.” Steve and his fellow agents “are not, in fact, whistleblowers,” according to the minority report, and “do not meet the definition of a whistle-blower,” according to the New York Times. 

— I was told by Florida’s Debbie Wasserman-Schultz that “being a Republican witness certainly casts a cloud over your objectivity”; Democratic Party sources told the Times that Steve and fellow agents Garret O’Boyle and George Hill “have engaged in partisan conduct that calls into question their credibility”;

— Democratic questioners in our case asked us about our opinions on Russian interference, and one said openly that failing to agree with them on that issue disqualified us from the “nuanced convo”; Steve, George, and Garrett were repeatedly quizzed about their attitudes toward various right-wing movements, suggesting that their opinions about these matters made them ineligible to offer procedural complaints. Friend, for instance, was asked about statements by “Three Percenters”:

Q: (Quoting from flyer) “Remember this, it comes straight from our Declaration of Independence, that whenever any form ofgovernment becomes destructive, it is the right and duty of the people to alter or abolish it. That is why you are here. For massive change to occurmassive action must be taken. Patriots, we are the lifeblood of this great nation, and it’s time we prove that.” Do you have an opinion about this statement? 

Friend: It seems like First Amendment-protected activity.

— Michael and I were repeatedly quizzed about money we may have made during the Twitter Files period, with Wasserman-Schultz going so far as to harangue my about my Twitter followers tripling and to ask us if we were paid for our testimony; Committee Democrats accused Friend of having “profited, and is profiting, from making his allegations about the FBI public”;

— Congressman Colin Allred told me to “take off my tinfoil hat”; the three FBI agents were accused of “conspiratorial social media posts,” as the Times put it. 

— Allred also blasted me for criticizing the “national security agencies” and told me to go home and “grapple” with the reality that the “very rights you think they’re trying to undermine, they may be trying to protect”; Friend and his fellow agents were accused of aiding in a “vendetta against the FBI”; 

— Shellenberger and I were accused of being stooges of Elon Musk; Friend and the agents, agents of Kash Patel. 

But the most outrageous portion of the Democratic Party’s report came in a section claiming that, because the agents were not really whistleblowers, and therefore really just expressing their opinion, they were not covered. “No law,” they wrote, “protects witnesses who speak to congress under these circumstances.”

The Whistleblower Protection Act specifically and the First Amendment generally come to mind, but not to this Committee office. 

The style of the new anti-speech Democrat is clear: define all government critics as lacking standing to criticize, impugn their prior opinions and associations, imply that all their beliefs are conspiracy theory, define their lack of faith in the FBI’s judgment as treasonous, and declare their motivation to be financial. Lastly, when they invoke common constitutional rights, make a note that their activities exist in an uncovered carve-out. 

This is the playbook, and we all better get used to it. 

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

* indicates required
Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi, author of the New York Times bestsellers The Divide, Griftopia, and The Great Derangement, was a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and winner of the 2007 National Magazine Award for Columns and Commentary.

Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments