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FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate left Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) stunned on Tuesday after characterizing more than a quarter-million unauthorized surveillance queries on Americans as "unintentional."
What is the background?
The Senate Judiciary Committee met to discuss reauthorizing Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which authorizes the government to conduct surveillance on non-Americans.
But, as Politico reported, the FBI has admitted to using Section 702 to target American citizens.
What happened with Hawley?
Those unauthorized surveillance queries became the subject of a heated back-and-forth between Abbate and Hawley, who accused the FBI of having "repeatedly abused its authority."
"Your institution is the one that, according to the court, the FISA court, ran 278,000 unwarranted — probably illegal — queries on Americans, right? That was your institution, correct?" Hawley asked.
"With respect to the compliance incident, yes," Abbate responded.
"Compliance? You characterized the unlawful querying, 278,000 times, of American citizens as 'compliance issues'?" Hawley followed up, dumbfounded.
When Abbate called such "compliance" issues "unacceptable," Hawley asked how the FBI is holding agents who violate Americans' rights accountable. Abbate responded that agents are "handled through the disciplinary process."
"In the case of the unintentional instance, where something similar happened, we have fired people in the past," Abbate said.
"Wait, I'm sorry, what does that word salad mean? The 'unintentional instance'? What does that mean? Who's been fired for the 278,000 times that you improperly or illegally queried the database for American citizens?" Hawley asked.
"When we find intentional incidents –" Abbate said before Hawley interjected.
"You're saying that the 278,000 queries were unintentional?" the senator followed up.
"I believe that's correct," Abbate admitted.
The admission left Hawley visibly stunned, forcing him to clarify whether, in fact, Abbate had just admitted that more than a quarter-million Americans have had their legally protected data accessed by the FBI without sufficient legal cause.
"Wow," he exclaimed. "278,000 times, American citizens' information was queried by your agency unintentionally? That's your testimony?"
Abbate responded by saying he believes the "vast majority" of the queries in question were unintentional, but he wasn't sure. He promised to get Hawley accurate information.
Hawley Grills FBI On Agency’s Baseless Monitoring Of Americans, Biden's Alleged Bribery Schemewww.youtube.com
Before the exchange, Abbate seemingly confirmed what Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) said last week: The FBI is afraid for the safety of a confidential human source behind a report alleging Biden engaged in bribery.
"The document ... contains sensitive information that has bearing on the life of the source of the information," Abbate disclosed.
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Chris Enloe is a staff writer for Blaze News