Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) criticized the Biden administration's Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday over the FBI's raiding of pro-life Christian activist Mark Houck, asking the Attorney General whether the Department of Justice (DOJ) had an “anti-Catholic bias.”
“Our department protects all religions, all ideologies. It does not have any bias against any religion of any kind,” Garland responded to the accusation from Hawley during Wednesday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Hawley pointed out how the DOJ will strike down Catholics and their activist efforts while “turning a blind eye” to the mass violence taking place in American cities.
“Your answer frankly surprises me,” Hawley added.
Hawley then focused on the story of pro-life activist, Mark Houck, who was charged under federal law.
Houck was arrested during an FBI raid after being accused of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE Act).
Approximately 20 heavily armed FBI agents arrested the 48-year-old at his home at gunpoint on Sept. 23 and placed him in handcuffs in front of his wife and children. Houck was arrested at his home in Kintnersville, Pennsylvania in connection to an altercation with an abortion escort outside an abortion clinic in October 2021. Days after, Hawley sent a letter to Garland accusing him of turning “local dispute into a national case,” and slammed the FBI for executing a search warrant in “extreme a manner as one can imagine.” Houck would be found not guilty of the charges in January 2023.
“Why did you send 20-30 SWAT-style agents, SWAT-style team to this guy's house when everybody else had declined to prosecute and he offered to turn himself in?”
Garland disagreed with the description of the arrest and said that the operation was done in a way to ensure the safety of all of those involved.
Hawley asked if it was “objectively necessary” to send agents with ballistic shields and rifles to Houck's home, where his wife and children were. Garland said that the decision was made by the FBI on the ground, to which Hawley asked if he was “abdicating responsibility.” Garland said he was not, to which Hawley said, “Then give me the answer. Do you think, in your opinion, you are the attorney general of the United States? You are in charge of the Justice Department and yes, sir, you are responsible. So give me an answer.”
After minutes of back and forth between Garland and Hawley wherein the Attorney General refused to take accountability, the Senator said: “You used an unbelievable show of force with guns that I just note liberals usually decry. We're supposed to hate long guns and assault-style weapons. You're happy to deploy them against Catholics and innocent children. Happy to,” Hawley later said. “And then you haul them into court and a jury acquits him in one hour. I suggest to you that is a disgraceful performance by your Justice Department and a disgraceful use of resources.”
Hawley highlighted a “pattern” that he has noticed, referencing a January 23 memorandum from the FBI that called for “the exploration of new avenues for tripwire and source development against traditionalist Catholics.”
“Attorney General, are you cultivating sources and spies in Latin mass parishes and other Catholic parishes across the country?” Hawley asked.
“The Justice Department does not do that and does not do investigations based on religion. I saw the document you sent. It's appalling. It's appalling. I'm in complete agreement with you. I understand that the FBI has withdrawn it and is looking into how this could ever have happened,” Garland replied.
Garland was asked how many Catholic churches across the United States had FBI informants in attendance, to which Garland said “I don't know, and I don't believe we have any informants aimed at Catholic churches. We have a rule against investigations based on First Amendment activity.”