Bombshell allegations by FBI Special Agent Steve Friend contained in a whistleblower complaint filed late Wednesday with the Department of Justice inspector general reveal a politicized Washington, DC, FBI field office cooking the books to exaggerate the threat of domestic terrorism, and using an “overzealous” January 6 investigation to harass conservative Americans and violate their constitutional rights.
Friend, 37, a respected 12-year veteran of the FBI and a SWAT-team member, was suspended Monday, stripped of his gun and badge, and escorted out of the FBI field office in Daytona Beach, Fla., after complaining to his supervisors about the violations.
He was declared absent without leave last month for refusing to participate in SWAT raids that he believed violated FBI policy and were a use of excessive force against Jan. 6 subjects accused of misdemeanor offenses.
This American hero, the father of two small children, has blown up his “dream career” because he could not live with his conscience if he continued to be part of what he sees as the unjust persecution of conservative Americans.
“I have an oath to uphold the Constitution,” he told supervisors when he asserted his conscientious objection to joining an Aug. 24 raid on a J6 subject in the Jacksonville, Fla., area. “I have a moral objection and want to be considered a conscientious objector.”
Friend, who did not vote for Donald Trump in the 2020 election, said he told his immediate boss twice that he believed the raid, and the investigative process leading up to it, violated FBI policy and the subject’s rights under the Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial and Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment.
In his whistleblower complaint to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, obtained by The Post, Friend lays out multiple violations of FBI policy involving J6 investigations in which he was involved.
He says he was removed from active investigations into child sexual exploitation and human trafficking, to work on J6 cases sent from DC. He was told “domestic terrorism was a higher priority” than child pornography. As a result, he believes his child-exploitation investigations were harmed.
He also has reported his concerns about a politicized FBI to Republican members of Congress, among 20 whistleblowers from the bureau who have come forward with similar complaints.
Among Friend’s allegations:
- The Washington, DC, field office is “manipulating” FBI case-management protocol and farming out J6 cases to field offices across the country to create the false impression that right-wing domestic violence is a widespread national problem that goes far beyond the “black swan” event of Jan. 6, 2021.
- As a result, he was listed as lead agent in cases he had not investigated and which his supervisor had not signed off on, in violation of FBI policy.
- FBI domestic-terrorism cases are being opened on innocent American citizens who were nowhere near the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, based on anonymous tips to an FBI hotline or from Facebook spying on their messages. These tips are turned into investigative tools called “guardians,” after the FBI software that collates them.
- The FBI has post-facto designated a grassed area outside the Capitol as a restricted zone, when it was not restricted on Jan. 6, 2021, in order to widen the net of prosecutions.
- The FBI intends to prosecute everyone even peripherally associated with J6 and another wave of J6 subjects are about to be referred to the FBI’s Daytona Beach resident agency “for investigation and arrest.”
- The Jacksonville area was “inundated” with “guardian” notifications and FBI agents were dispatched to conduct surveillance and knock on people’s doors, including people who had not been in Washington, DC, on Jan 6, 2021, or who had been to the Trump rally that day but did not go inside the Capitol.
Friend says he was punished after complaining to his bosses about being dragged into J6 investigations that were “violating citizens’ Sixth Amendment rights due to overzealous charging by the DOJ and biased jury pools in Washington, DC.”
His top-secret security clearance was suspended last week because he “entered FBI space [his office] and downloaded documents from FBI computer systems [an employee handbook and guidelines for employee disciplinary procedures] to an unauthorized removable flash drive.”
In a Sept. 16 letter from the head of FBI Human Resources, he was told he was losing his security clearance also because he “espoused beliefs which demonstrate questionable judgment [and demonstrated] an unwillingness to comply with rules and regulations.”
Reprisals from bosses
In his whistleblower complaint, Friend describes “reprisals” from his supervisors after he voiced his conscientious objections.
He says they ignored his complaint about “manipulative casefile practice [which] creates false and misleading crime statistics, constituting false official federal statements.
“Instead of hundreds of investigations stemming from an isolated incident at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, FBI and DOJ officials point to significant increases in domestic violent extremism and terrorism around the United States.
“At no point was I advised or counseled on where to take my disclosure beyond the reprising officials above; the threatened reprisal constituted a de facto gag on my whistleblowing.”
On Aug. 19, he first told his immediate boss, Supervisory Senior Resident Agent Greg Federico, that he believed “it was inappropriate to use an FBI SWAT team to arrest a subject for misdemeanor offenses and opined that the subject would likely face extended detainment and biased jury pools in Washington, DC.
“I suggested alternatives such as the issuance of a court summons or utilizing surveillance groups to determine an optimal, safe time for a local sheriff deputy to contact the subjects and advise them about the existence of the arrest warrant.”
Federico told him it would have been better to just “call in sick” rather than voice his objection and “threatened reprisal indirectly by asking how long I saw myself continuing to work for the FBI.”
Four days later, Friend was summoned to Jacksonville to meet his next-level bosses, Assistant Special Agents in Charge Coult Markovsky and Sean Ryan about his refusal to join the SWAT raid.
He told them about his concerns over “irregular” case handling of J6 matters that he believed were in violation of a legal rule known as “Brady” that requires prosecutors to disclose evidence that would exonerate a defendant.
They asked if he believed any J6 rioters committed crimes and he replied: “Some of the people who entered the Capitol committed crimes, but others were innocent. I elaborated that I believed some innocent individuals had been unjustly prosecuted, convicted and sentenced.”
Markovsky then asked Friend if J6 rioters who “killed police officers” should be prosecuted, even though no such thing happened. When Friend pointed out that “there were no police officers killed on January 6, 2021,” Markovsky told him he was being a “bad teammate.”
Both agents “threatened reprisal again by warning that my refusal [to go on the SWAT raid] could amount to insubordination. References were made to my future career prospects with the FBI.”
Friend was labeled AWOL the day the raid took place and stripped of his pay.
A week later, he was told to meet the top agent in Jacksonville, Special Agent in Charge Sherri Onks, who told him he needed to do some “soul searching” and decide if he wanted to work for the FBI.
When he told her “many of my colleagues expressed similar concerns to me but had not vocalized their objections to FBI executive management,” she told him his “views represented an extremely small minority of the FBI workforce.”
She then shared the emotional experience of fearing for her own life on Jan. 6, 2021, when she was sitting on the seventh floor of the secure J. Edgar Hoover Building, FBI headquarters, after protesters one mile away “seized the Capitol and threatened the United States’ democracy.”
Agents used as ‘pawns’
Friend says his concerns are shared with large numbers of rank-and-file FBI agents across the country who believe they are being used as pawns to pursue the political agenda of the bosses in Washington, DC.
These kinds of abuses of the law are a “morale killer” for field agents, he says.
Many agents, who joined the FBI in the wake of 9/11, are keeping their heads down because they are close to their 20-year retirement with full pension. But he says they are equally disgusted at being forced to take part in the politicization of federal law enforcement.
Other whistleblowers say that disquiet grew after the FBI raid on Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida on Aug. 8.
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who is working with these heroic FBI agents, has been trying to introduce legislation to strengthen the bureau’s woefully inadequate whistleblower protections. Friend’s complaint will be a test case.
In a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray on Aug. 11, Grassley alleged that a committee of FBI field agents had been to see Wray to express the concerns of agents in all 56 field offices across the country that “the FBI has become too politicized in its decision-making.” Grassley further alleges “those concerns were removed from this year’s final report” of the FBI’s Special Agents Advisory Committee.
Wray ignored Grassley’s letter along with a dozen other letters from the dogged Iowa senator alleging gross malfeasance at the bureau.
But unrest is growing among field agents about the weaponization of the FBI against the Biden administration’s political opponents under Wray. He can’t ignore it for long.