(Originally aired Oct. 23, 2022)
The FBI has been mired in controversy. An FBI lawyer — caught doctoring documents to spy on a Donald Trump campaign supporter. Former FBI Director James Comey — given a pass after being referred for criminal charges. He’d allegedly mishandled documents in a campaign to smear Trump. The FBI misdirecting the public on the Hunter Biden laptop just before the election. And, of course, the FBI’s Russia collusion probe of Trump, ginned up by the Clinton campaign. All this time we’ve heard little to nothing publicly from FBI insiders. Until now.
Today we begin with a remarkable interview with a current FBI agent: Stephen Friend. He claims that things are so broken at high levels inside the nation’s premier law enforcement agency that he had to blow the whistle.
The following is a transcript of a report from "Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson." Watch the video by clicking the link at the end of the page.
Stephen Friend started his career as an FBI Special Agent in 2014. That’s Friend with FBI Director James Comey at graduation. He says his job was without controversy until he began questioning some of the FBI’s motives and practices.
It began with the political kidnapping plot against Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, putting the focus on domestic terrorism weeks before the 2020 presidential election.
Stephen Friend: The FBI Detroit office opened an investigation on individuals that said they were part of a militia that was intending on kidnapping and assassinating Gretchen Whitmer. We were one of the tactical teams that assisted with the takedowns there. So we executed that warrant and drove away. I thought that I had done good work that day.
Now in the intervening time, there’s a lot that came out with the trials of those individuals. What came out was that the FBI was driving the kidnapping plot through multiple informants and undercover agents. They included the militia group leader, Dan Chappel, an FBI informant who took the lead in plotting Whitmer’s kidnapping and offered up a credit card to buy bullets and supplies— paid for by the FBI.
Stephen Friend: In the fallout, it appeared that the undercovers and case agents were driving this case and driving this narrative to entrap individuals who were not disposed to commit the crimes. And I frankly felt like I had been used as an apparatchik of a politically-driven agency.
Friend went on to what he thought was a long-term assignment working child exploitation cases under the FBI’s Jacksonville, Florida field office. But just three months into the assignment, he was reassigned to a higher priority: January 6 domestic terrorism cases. January 6 refers to the giant Washington, D.C. rally in 2021 with masses of Trump supporters challenging the election of President Biden.
President Donald Trump: I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.
Many protesters were peaceful and were allowed into the Capitol as police stood by. Others became violent. The FBI launched aggressive and expansive investigations. Friend says financial incentives rewarded FBI managers who built lots of cases under the heading of “domestic terrorism.”
Sharyl Attkisson: So is it accurate to say the local FBI offices that brought January 6th cases probably saw financial benefit, at least the individual executives with the FBI in those offices?
Stephen Friend: Yes.
Sharyl Attkisson: Is it accurate to say, as far as you know, there were not bonuses being given for child exploitation cases?
Stephen Friend: As far as I know, there weren’t.
Sharyl Attkisson: As you started reading up and gathering facts, what were some of the thoughts that you had about the January 6th incident and the cases?
Stephen Friend: I had sort of a mixed review. To me, there were some violent actions by individuals that probably warranted a criminal prosecution. But then I also saw other cases where the individual was simply walking into the Capitol building with the permission of Capitol police officers and had told the FBI that very same fact, and, on occasion, there was surveillance video to support it. Kind of seemed to me that it was a waste of our valuable resources to pursue even an interview with that individual if we had them on video not committing any crime and just walking into the Capitol building, which is their right to do as an American citizen.
It’s been widely reported that the FBI had undercover agents in the January 6 crowd, though they won't say how many.
And with some protesters claiming they were allowed into the Capitol, Friend says it harkens back to the Governor Whitmer plot.
Stephen Friend: With the overlap of the way that those individuals were, or may have been, entrapped, and I saw that some of these individuals with January 6th were being allowed into the Capitol by police officers, there was certainly an element of that that, to me, smelled a little bit like entrapment. And I didn't want to make the same mistake twice. There was that “once, shame on you, twice, shame on me” thinking that I had.
For Friend, things completely unraveled in August. That’s when he says he declined to take part in what he considered unnecessary and heavy-handed FBI raids on multiple January 6 suspects in Florida.
Sharyl Attkisson: What did you think was so wrong about the raids?
Stephen Friend: I felt that there was definitely a harder hand in the way that the arrests and the searches were going to be carried out, regardless of the individuals' involvement in January 6th. They had been interviewed. There had been an open line of communication between the FBI and those individuals. But there are other mechanisms that I felt were better — if it was using surveillance to arrest an individual when he was outside his home and, you know, identifying him on the way to work and doing an arrest there. That could be warranted.
Sharyl Attkisson: Can you arrange someone to turn themselves in through their attorney?
Stephen Friend: Yes. It's a process called issuing a summons to somebody and it's very common, especially in white collar, nonviolent crimes.
For refusing to take part in the raids, Friend says he received an ultimatum, then a suspension, from the FBI’s Jacksonville Special Agent in charge, Sherri Onks.
Sharyl Attkisson: What did she say?
Stephen Friend: She said that it appeared to her that I'd lost faith in the agency and its leadership and that I represented a very fringe belief about the events of January 6th not needing the heavy-handedness that the FBI was treating them. And my belief that there could be potential abuses of power that it was incumbent on me to call out as a matter of my oath of office — she said that that was a very fringe belief and that I needed to do some soul-searching about whether or not I wanted to have a future in the FBI.
The FBI declined our interview request but told Full Measure it “investigates individuals who commit or intend to commit violence and other criminal activity that constitutes a federal crime or poses a threat to national security. We are committed to upholding the constitutional rights of all Americans and will never open an investigation based solely on First Amendment activity.”
Friend is still technically employed at the FBI, but suspended without pay, and hoping that putting his job on the line makes a difference.
Shary Attkisson: I don't think should be lost, that the FBI, our premier law enforcement agency in this country domestically, could be, in your view at least, doing things that are the antithesis of what they're supposed to be doing.
Stephen Friend: I applied to the FBI because I believe in the mission. I look at my responsibility as I want to combat bullying, and that's why I became a special agent. If the FBI becomes the bully, that doesn't change my responsibility. I need to stand up and face that down, even if it means my career. And if the FBI is willing to become a bully, then it's truly lost.
Sharyl (on-camera): Friend is working with a nonpartisan whistleblower group, Empower Oversight. They’ve helped him submit formal complaints to the Inspector General, Office of Special Counsel, and Capitol Hill.
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