Hawley presses Wray on use of geolocation data to track Capitol rioters

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) grilled FBI Director Christopher Wray about the methods federal law enforcement officials have been using to track people who participated in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. 

“Are you saying … you don’t know whether the bureau has scooped up geolocation data, metadata cellphone records from cellphone towers?” Hawley asked Wray during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday. “Do you not know, or are you saying maybe it has or maybe it hasn’t? Tell me what you know about this.” 

Wray replied he would “not be surprised to learn” but does not “know for a fact that we were using geolocation data under any situation in connection with investigation into the 6th.” 

“But again, we do use geolocation data under specific authorities and specific instances,” Wray said. “Because this is such a sprawling investigation, that would not surprise me.” 

When it comes to metadata and the Capitol riot, Wray said he felt “confident” the FBI has been acting within its legal authority to look at the data of people who participated in the Jan. 6 attack “under a variety of situations.”  

The FBI in partnership with the Department of Justice and local police in Washington, D.C., have been investigating the origins and execution of the Jan. 6 siege on the Capitol. Hundreds of people have been arrested for their participation in the incident that left several people dead and dozens injured. 

Some critics have warned tracking down rioters could come at a cost to personal liberty. Bank of America last month was hit with criticism from the right after it said it would help federal authorities obtain banking information for people believed to have participated in the riot. 

Hawley, a conservative and loyalist to former President Trump, was one of the two GOP senators who objected to the certification of President Biden’s victory even after the riot had briefly forced the legislative proceedings to be put on hold. 

Capitol and D.C. police officials testified before Congress last week that the building breach occurred due to a lack of coordination between federal authorities and a lapse in intelligence about potential threats to the Capitol that day. 

Earlier during Tuesday’s hearing, Wray called the Jan. 6 insurrection an act of domestic terrorism and slapped down suggestions from Trump’s allies, including his legal defense team during the resulting impeachment trial, that far-left agitators had infiltrated the crowd to cause chaos and paint Trump supporters in a negative light. 

“The attackers on Jan. 6 included a number — and the number keeps growing as we build out our investigations — of what we would call militia violent extremism,” Wray said. “And we have had some already arrested who we would put in the category of racially motivated violent extremism. … Those would be the categories so far that we’re seeing as far as Jan. 6.”

Wray added the FBI does not “care what ideology motivates somebody.” 

“We don’t care whether it’s left, right, up, down, diagonal or any other way,” he said of the threat of political violence in America. “If the ideology is motivating violence and violates federal law, we’re coming after it.” 

–Updated at 3:13 p.m.

Tags Christopher Wray Christopher Wray Donald Trump Federal Bureau of Investigation Joe Biden Josh Hawley Josh Hawley Storming of the United States Capitol United States Capitol Police

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