FBI Director Christopher Wray said Tuesday he wasn’t aware of whether his subordinates are pursuing controversial domestic surveillance steps to track down participants in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Wray told senators during a Judiciary Committee hearing that he didn’t know if FBI agents acquired large quantities of transaction records from Bank of America, as reported by Fox News, or if the FBI used geolocation data from cellphone tower dumps to ID attendees, as reported by the Intercept.
Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) pressed Wray for information on cellphone geolocation data, which raises legal concerns especially because members of Congress and journalists were in the Capitol at the same time as rioters.
Lee asked: “Is the FBI accessing cellphone tower metadata from telecommunications companies, is that where it’s coming from?”
Wray replied, “Without knowing the specifics, without being able to drill into the specifics, it’s hard for me to answer your question.”
Lee pressed, “Are there instances in which you’re interviewing people based solely on information derived from a telecommunications provider providing geolocation information indicating that they were on or near the National Mall on Jan. 6?”
Wray said that because the investigation is so large, “it’s very hard for me to speak with any absolute confidence as to whether there’s any interview predicated on any one specific [thing].”
Hawley later pressed Wray for an answer on “whether or not the bureau has scooped up geolocation data, metadata from cellphone records or cellphone towers.”
The FBI director said, “I would not be surprised to learn but I do not know for a fact that we were using geolocation data under any situation with connection with the investigation of the 6th.”
Hawley also pressed Wray on allegations that Bank of America records were handed over to the FBI for what critics call a “fishing expedition” to search for incriminating information.
Wray said, “I don’t know any of the specifics. I’d have to look into that.”
When Hawley asked if similar records were taken from other banks, Wray again said he didn’t know.
“Sitting here right now, I do not know the answer to that question. I do know that we work with private-sector partners, including financial institutions, in a variety of ways all the time in a variety of investigations. But exactly the specifics of what may or may not have happened here, that I don’t know,” Wray said.
At the hearing, Wray admitted he had not read until after the riot a Jan. 5 report from the FBI Norfolk Field Office describing online chatter about “war” on the Capitol building. He also declined to identify the cause of death for Capitol Police Office Brian Sicknick.