by Julie Kelly
“You’re in big f*****g trouble.”
So said an FBI agent to Julian Khater, one of two men accused of assaulting Capitol police officers with pepper spray on January 6, during a tense interrogation last year. Desperate to sustain the falsehood that Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick was killed by Trump supporters during the Capitol protest, the FBI claimed to possess video footage that showed Khater and his friend, George Tanios, attacking Sicknick and other officers with chemical spray. Khater was arrested on an airplane at the Newark airport on March 14, 2021 after he arrived home from a trip to Florida.
For more than two hours—shackled to a metal bar in a freezing room at the New Jersey FBI field office—Khater, who has no criminal record, was interrogated without a lawyer present. FBI Special Agent Riley Palmertree refused to tell Khater why he was under arrest until he agreed to proceed without counsel in the room, which Khater reluctantly did. Recently released video confirms Khater initially told the agents he “would feel more comfortable if I had a lawyer” answering questions on his behalf. An hour later, Khater again said he wanted his lawyer.
But Palmertree pushed back, presenting videos and photos implicating Khater in the alleged assault. Palmertree assured Khater that by admitting he sprayed Sicknick with pepper spray rather than a can of bear spray—an item Palmertree later testified was not used that day—a judge would go easy on him. Khater signed a statement confessing that he attacked officers with pepper spray.
Khater has been in jail ever since, housed in the D.C. gulag specifically used to detain January 6 protesters; his trial is scheduled for June 6.
But Khater’s lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, is now asking the court to toss the interrogation as evidence, arguing that the FBI used “coercion and deception” to force Khater into waiving his Miranda rights. Further, Tacopina wrote in a February 22 motion that Palmertree lied in his FBI report by claiming he advised Khater about the “nature of the interview” before asking Khater to waive his rights.
Khater’s unconstitutional confession is just the latest example of how this rogue agency filled with dirty cops operates with impunity. In just the past several weeks, a number of new FBI scandals have emerged.
- A 2019 internal audit of the FBI detected hundreds of violations related to “sensitive investigative matters,” which are investigations into elected officials, candidates, or political organizations. A review of 353 sensitive cases uncovered 747 violations. “A majority of the cases studied, 191, involved domestic public officials,” the Washington Times reported this month. “Dozens of cases involved religious organizations or their prominent members, and dozens of cases involved domestic political organizations and individuals. Ten cases involved domestic political candidates, and 11 cases involved news media.” Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said on Twitter that he and Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) are “demanding answers +inspector general investigation CANT [sic] TOLERATE ‘mistakes’ of FBI trampling constitutional rights.”
- Bryan Vorndran, assistant director of the FBI’s cyber division, told the House Judiciary Committee this week that he doesn’t know the whereabouts of Hunter Biden’s laptop, a device the agency seized in December 2019. Under questioning by Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Vorndran repeatedly evaded questions as to whether the department has investigated the contents of the computer to determine if the Biden family is “compromised” or poses a security threat due to voluminous correspondence with foreign interests from China, Russia, and Ukraine. “It is not in the realm of my responsibilities to deal with the questions you’re asking,” Vorndran told Gaetz, who submitted a copy of the laptop’s hard drive into the committee’s official record.
Meanwhile, an in-depth investigation by the Washington Post published this week confirms what the New York Post reported before the election about Hunter Biden’s laptop: “But the new documents—illustrate the ways in which his family profited from relationships built over Joe Biden’s decades in public service,” the Post finally admitted, which included Hunter’s multimillion-dollar arrangement with a Chinese Communist Party-associated energy company.
- The ongoing trial of four men accused of conspiring to “kidnap” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 has revealed the FBI’s sloppy—and expensive—handling of FBI informants. More than a dozen FBI undercover agents and informants were involved in the kidnapping caper; Dan Chappel, the lead informant, was compensated at least $60,000 by the FBI for six months’ work, paid in cash for services rendered, and reimbursement for expenses. The FBI also gave Chappel a new laptop and smart watch; Chappel admitted he was responsible for creating encrypted group chats to bring the alleged kidnappers together.
Defense lawyers also revealed that Stephen Robeson, a longtime FBI informant and convicted felon working the case, has a rap sheet in nine states and operates out of numerous FBI field offices across the country. (He was paid roughly $20,000 by the FBI.) Prosecutors claim Robeson is a “double-agent” and fired him as an informant after learning he committed at least two crimes in 2020. Defense counsel wanted to call Robeson as a witness but after the government threatened to charge him with new crimes and Robeson notified the court he would take the Fifth, the judge denied a defense motion to call him to the stand. “Apparently, the government doesn’t have to be held accountable for their actions,” one defense attorney said after the judge’s ruling on Wednesday.
- House Republicans sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray in March demanding answers about the agency’s arrangement with NSO Group, an Israeli-based software company that produces invasive spyware that other countries have used to track journalists and political dissidents. The New York Times reported in January that the “F.B.I. bought and tested NSO software for years with plans to use it for domestic surveillance until the agency finally decided last year not to deploy the tools,” although the equipment remains in a New Jersey warehouse. By using the platform, snoops can access cell phone activity including the device’s camera and microphone.
“In light of the FBI’s repeated failure to adhere to safeguards on its use of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authorities and the FBI’s spying on protected First Amendment activities during the campaign of President Donald Trump, the FBI acquiring yet another tool to spy on Americans is deeply troubling and presents significant risks to the civil liberties of U.S. persons,” Representatives Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Mike Johnson (R-La.) wrote Wray on March 3.
Wray has yet to answer. In fact, as his agents unlawfully coerce answers out of American citizens, Wray repeatedly ignores inquiries from elected leaders in Congress. Representative Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) noted this week that Wray has not responded to three letters recently sent to his office; Senate Republicans routinely get the cold shoulder from Wray.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of FBI records related to the Capitol breach investigation still have not been made available to January 6 defendants; although trials are underway, defense attorneys don’t have access to the government’s full trove of discovery material, including potentially exculpatory evidence.
This is the same unaccountable agency, by the way, that the Biden White House wants to reward with a $10.8 billion budget for next year.
Unfortunately, Republicans are largely responsible for the accelerated rate of corruption and malfeasance at the FBI. For years, congressional Republicans promised to hold FBI officials culpable for various scandals but failed to act. Writing mean letters and ranting on social media won’t cut it when Republicans take control of Congress next year—few issues are more important than either reforming or dissolving this rogue department using its massive powers against the American people.
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Julie Kelly is a political commentator and senior contributor to American Greatness. She is the author of January 6: How Democrats Used the Capitol Protest to Launch a War on Terror Against the Political Right and Disloyal Opposition: How the NeverTrump Right Tried―And Failed―To Take Down the President. Her past work can be found at The Federalist and National Review. She also has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, The Hill, Chicago Tribune, Forbes, and Genetic Literacy Project. She is the co-host of the “Happy Hour Podcast with Julie and Liz.” She is a graduate of Eastern Illinois University and lives in suburban Chicago with her husband and two daughters.
Photo “Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) – Minneapolis Field Office” by Tony Webtser CC BY 2.0.