GOP senators Mike Lee, Josh Hawley mocked after grilling FBI on using geolocation data to track Capitol rioters

'I call upon FBI Director Christopher Wray to give us answers regarding FBI’s collection of geolocation data, and to stop opposing bipartisan legislation designed to protect the constitutional rights of American citizens,' said Mike Lee


                            GOP senators Mike Lee, Josh Hawley mocked after grilling FBI on using geolocation data to track Capitol rioters
Republican Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Josh Hawley of Missouri (Getty Images)

In his testimony before a Senate panel, the FBI director, Christopher Wray, admitted that not only has the agency collected cellphone metadata on the locations and communications of the Capitol rioters but also members of Congress during the January 6 attack.

Wray also said that the Capitol extremists represent a part of the burgeoning domestic threat landscape that has agents working on 2,000 open investigations, double the number the FBI reported four years ago. “Trends may shift, but the underlying drivers for domestic violent extremism – such as perceptions of government or law enforcement overreach, sociopolitical conditions, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, misogyny and reactions to legislative actions – remain constant,” said Wray.

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Senator Mike Lee tweeted about his specific objections saying: "The FBI has repeatedly opposed efforts to rein in its domestic-surveillance authority under FISA, the PATRIOT Act, and other provisions of federal law," and added in another tweet: "I call upon FBI Director Christopher Wray to give us answers regarding FBI’s collection of geolocation data, and to stop opposing bipartisan legislation designed to protect the constitutional rights of American citizens."

U.S. Sen. Mike Lee  of Utah was also part of a Senate committee's probe into the origins of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. (Getty Images)


 



 

Senator Lee's privacy concerns about geolocation tracking despite the threat posed by "domestic terrorism" evoked strong reactions on Twitter. "Republican Senator Mike Lee objects to white supremacist and violent insurrectionists from being tracked by geolocation data. He must believe there are good people on both sides," mocked one tweet, while another said: "Also appalling: @SenMikeLee very upset Wray is tracking #insurrectionists' phones & wants to know how. Worried Trump's paid ppl will be tracked & lead to YOU, Senator?" Another user replying to Lee on his two-part tweet wrote: "Mike, you are simply trying to protect and cover-up evidence. It is normal during this type of investigation to get phone records of such. It was a terroristic attack on the Capitol of the United States. Why do you want to obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice."



 



 



 

Senator Josh Hawley also shared Senator Lee's concerns. "Are you saying ... you don't know whether the bureau has scooped up geolocation data, metadata cellphone records from cellphone towers?" Hawley asked Wray during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. "Do you not know, or are you saying maybe it has or maybe it hasn't? Tell me what you know about this." Wray replied he would "not be surprised to learn" but does not "know for a fact that we were using geolocation data under any situation in connection with investigation into the 6th." He added: "But again, we do use geolocation data under specific authorities and specific instances. Because this is such a sprawling investigation, that would not surprise me". 

Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri asks questions during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing to discuss election security and the 2020 election process on December 16, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Getty Images)

Twitter was quick to point out Hawley's interest in these minute details saying: "Now Hawley is concerned about geolocation of 1/6/21, why is he soo interested. Attempting to protect his civil liberties," said one tweet, while another said: "Josh Hawley's questions for FBI Director Chris Wray are thinly veiled attempts at figuring out what evidence the FBI has against Hawley, and Wray clearly knows it."  



 



 

Wray at one point in his testimony emphasized how the FBI does not "care what ideology motivates somebody." He told the Senate panel, "We don't care whether it's left, right, up, down, diagonal or any other way," about domestic threats and political violence in America. "If the ideology is motivating violence and violates federal law, we're coming after it."  

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