Biden DOJ report: ‘No malicious intent’ behind leaked FBI memo targeting traditional Catholics

Michael Horowitz Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz speaks during a Senate Judiciary hearing on Capitol Hill on Sept. 15, 2021, in Washington, D.C. | Credit: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The Department of Justice released a report to Congress on Thursday that concluded that the analysts who created an internal memo linking traditionalist Catholics to violent extremists “failed to adhere to FBI standards” but showed no evidence of “malicious intent.”

Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s 10-page report found no evidence that anyone ordered either of the unidentified analysts who authored the memo to find a link between racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVE’s) and members of any religion or political affiliation. The report concluded there was no “underlying policy direction” indicating a link.

“We also found no evidence that Analyst 1 or 2 took investigative steps beyond searching FBI and other databases to obtain information for the [memo],” the report said.

The since-retracted leaked memo, dated Jan. 23, 2023, originated from the bureau’s Richmond office. It claimed that racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists will likely become more interested in “radical-traditionalist Catholic ideology” within the next 12 to 24 months “in the run-up to the next general election cycle.”

The U.S. bishops, along with many Catholic leaders, condemned the memo after it was leaked to the press. Additionally, lawmakers, some of whom have accused the FBI of targeting traditionalist Catholics, have demanded answers from the Department of Justice as to how, why, and through whom the document came to be.

The report, which Horowitz said included only a “limited review” due to time constraints given by Congress, focused on the work of two unnamed analysts who were the main authors behind the memo titled: “Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology Almost Certainly Presents New Mitigation Opportunities.”

Both analysts denied targeting anyone for practicing their faith, with one of them saying suggestions that his motivations included anti-Catholic bias are “patently false.”

“Analyst 1 also stated that a close reading of the [memo] would show that it was intended to focus entirely on the threat posed by RMVEs and to promote outreach to the Catholic Church, in part to protect that community from potentially violent actors. Analyst 2 similarly stated the intent behind the [memo] was to try to protect these houses of worship by sensitizing them to a potential threat to their congregations,” the report said.

Another major concern raised by critics of the leaked memo was the Richmond field office’s use of biased sourcing, such as the nonprofit activist organization Southern Poverty Law Center, and its designation of nine “Radical Traditional Catholicism” organizations as “hate groups.”

The inspector general asked both analysts about its sourcing and both “acknowledged that there were concerns about perceived bias on the part of those organizations and sources,” the report said.

“However, both analysts said that the intended audience (FBI Richmond executive management) would understand those concerns without the need for commentary and would weigh the information accordingly,” the report said.

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley told CNA Friday that he appreciated the inspector general’s work under a tight deadline.

“However, the report leaves questions unanswered that I and many of my colleagues have been asking of the FBI for over a year. The most important part of this report is what’s not in it, rather than what is,” he said.

“[FBI] Director [Christopher] Wray has failed to sufficiently explain why he described the memo to Congress as a ‘single product’ when there were two — one internal to Richmond, and one the FBI planned to elevate to the whole bureau nationwide,” he said.

“The FBI has also failed to explain why it ordered the permanent deletion of files related to the memo or why it continues to use biased sources like the Southern Poverty Law Center. The FBI owes the Senate many more answers regarding this appalling case,” he said.

CNA reached out to the bureau for comment but did not immediately receive a response by time of publication. 

In a statement to the New York Times on Thursday, the bureau said that its account of the events agreed with the inspector general’s report.

More in US

“The FBI has said numerous times that the intelligence product did not meet our exacting standards and was quickly removed from FBI systems,” it said. “We also have said there was no intent or actions taken to investigate Catholics or anyone based on religion.”

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.