FBI Director Christopher Wray had already taken a lot of guff from Wyoming Congresswoman Harriet Hageman by the time she confronted him at a House Judiciary hearing last Wednesday. 

At a May session, she accused Wray of being “corrupt,” then laughably compared his agency to the piercing evil eye in “The Lord of the Rings.” The latter was such an off-the-wall attack, Hageman deserves extra debate points for creativity.

“The Eye of Sauron has turned inward, and it is operating with a white-hot intensity that seeks to destroy everything in its path,” Hageman solemnly said. I swear her eyes appeared to glow red.

I knew Hageman wasn’t close to approaching the depths she was willing to reach to paint Wray as a jack-booted persecutor of conservatives like her. What could Wray do to make it stop? Perhaps a “have you no sense of decency” line, as counsel Joseph Welch dramatically asked notorious communist-hunter Sen. Joe McCarthy?

The entire Wray-Hageman exchange can be viewed here

So, having seen the previews, I was ready for a real show when Hageman started her inquisition of Wray and the FBI’s alleged collusion with social media corporations like Facebook and Twitter to stomp on the First Amendment. She claimed Twitter’s interaction with the FBI was so constant and pervasive, the agency treated the company “as if it were a subsidiary.”

“Neither you or the FBI have any legal authority to circumvent the First Amendment by using a surrogate to do your dirty work,” Hageman said. “Yet that is exactly what you have been doing.” 

Conservatives charge that the Department of Justice, FBI and other federal agencies have met regularly with more than two dozen social media companies to order them not to allow false election claims, disproven COVID-19 conspiracy theories and other disinformation on their platforms.

On July 4, Louisiana Federal District Court Judge Terry Doughty gave credibility to that narrative when, in Missouri v. Biden, he ordered President Joe Biden, federal agencies and officials not to pressure companies to delete or suppress broad categories of information that are protected speech.

The Biden administration’s counter-argument is that it isn’t telling social media companies what to take down or how to set policies. However, it maintains the government has an interest in promoting accurate information about critical issues like public health and elections, and curbing the spread of illegal material, including terrorism and child sex abuse.

Doughty — a 2017 Donald Trump appointee — wrote a 155-page decision prohibiting such action on the grounds it violates protected speech. His first sentence modestly declares the case “involves the most massive attack against free speech in United States history.”

It gave Hageman and other far-right House members precisely the ammo they needed to drive Wray into a corner. “The American people fully understand that there is a two-tiered justice system that has been weaponized to persecute people based on their political beliefs,” Hageman said. “And that you have personally worked to weaponize the FBI against conservatives.”

Up until that point, the best defense Wray mustered consisted of weakly saying he disagreed with the claims of Hageman and the committee, and he was just trying to do the right thing.

Then he hit his limit with the weaponization issue and clearly expressed his annoyance. 

“The idea that I’m biased against conservatives seems somewhat insane to me, given my own personal background,” Wray told Hageman. He should have left out “somewhat.”

Wray has been a registered Republican all his life. He was a senior political appointee in George W. Bush’s Department of Justice, clerk to a noted conservative judge and a Federalist Society contributor. Trump appointed him to head the FBI. Few people this side of Liz Cheney — Hageman’s vanquished Wyoming congressional opponent from last year — are more conservative. (Irony intended.)

Wray pushed back on another Hageman attack. When she said he ignored two U.S. senators’ letters asking to meet about how the COVID-19 virus originated, Wray recalled the FBI was initially the first federal agency to agree with conservatives’ conclusion it started in a Wuhan, China lab.

Two days after Hageman grilled Wray on Capitol Hill, Republicans could no longer point to Missouri v. Biden as a definite win. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction to prevent the lower court’s ruling from going into effect. The appeals court will hear arguments about whether the injunction will be lifted at any time during the process.

The action effectively took the wind out of the GOP committee members’ sails. But Hageman isn’t backing down from her criticism of the FBI and its director. On Newsmax, she continued spewing conspiracy theories — with no evidence — about the FBI investigating parents who complain at school board meetings, traditional Catholics and members of the anti-abortion movement.

Hageman said the FBI and DOJ are “slandering” those they’re investigating as “being radical,” framing the agencies as the hypocrites and radical operatives. In other words, Hageman employed the old Republican mainstay “I’m rubber, you’re glue” defense.

The “FBI’s gone rogue” story has been so entertaining that we can be forgiving for not anticipating the Hunter Biden plot twist.

Attorney Robert Corn-Revere made the connection in a thoughtful analysis of Doughty’s decision in Reason Magazine. He said the judge was troubled that the FBI failed to alert social media companies that the Hunter Biden laptop story was real, and not mere Russian disinformation. 

Do you catch that, or did the double negatives throw you off the trail? The problem was that “the FBI didn’t advise the companies not to moderate this story.” A federal judge was upset that the FBI didn’t tell social media companies to promote stories about the first son’s laptop. This is the bizarro world in which our congressional representative dwells.

Techdirt podcaster Mike Masnick summarized the judge’s message as, “Don’t communicate with social media companies, except if your communication boosts the storylines that will help Donald Trump.”

Bingo! This is what makes all the far-right’s noise about the “weaponization” of the justice system, and particularly Hageman’s claim about Wray being a traitor to his political roots, such a crock. 

Presidents from both the Republican and Democratic parties have used the power of the office to clip the wings of their political adversaries. It’s wrong, but a natural instinct. An easy case can be made, though, that Trump’s weaponization of the government’s powers was more plentiful and far shadier than most.

Corn-Revere sued Trump over several allegations: the president leveraged antitrust actions against critical media companies, threatened to revoke broadcast licenses, and made frequent threats to revoke or reinterpret Section 230, a federal law that shields online platforms from liability for users’ posts. The case became moot when Trump’s presidency ended.

Let’s not forget Trump labeling the press as “the enemy of the people” and his continued daily harassment as a 2024 presidential candidate of whatever enemy he chooses to abuse on a given day. Or the former president’s Attorney General, Bill Barr, who sure seemed to be doing Trump’s bidding in many cases, including protecting political fixer Roger Stone, and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Talk about weaponizing the justice system. There are few more blatant examples than Trump firing former FBI Director James Comey for daring to investigate his collusion with Russia in his first presidential campaign. How about withholding military aid to Ukraine unless it investigated Biden, his eventual opponent?

Hageman makes a logical choice to be one of Trump’s most vociferous defenders in Congress. She owes her political career to Trump hand-picking her to oppose Cheney, who had the audacity to vote for his well-earned second impeachment.

I seriously doubt if there’s anything Hageman wouldn’t do or say on her benefactor’s behalf, since he plucked her from political obscurity. As his federal and state indictments pile up and criminal trials begin, we’ll have plenty of chances to see how low she’ll go.

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. Unfortunately Congressional hearings have become little more than public relation dog and pony shows. Hagamans grandstanding not withstanding, as a civil libertarian I err on the side of free speech. Drake states the Biden administration believes “the government has an interest in promoting accurate information about critical issues”, but who in “the government” determines what is accurate information and what is misinformation? A very slippery slope indeed. Those with the power to censure the lies (i.e. misinformation) also have the power to censure the truth. That power should never be vested by “the government” , no matter what party is running the show.

  2. I’ve been a regular contributor to Wyoming’s Congressional Delegations inbox for the past few years. Rarely do they ever agree with my opinions but they do reply most times. In the past few months I’ve contacted Rep. Hegeman 3 or 4 times and in reply I get this, “Rah, rah, sis-boom-bah, Go Donald Trump!” form letter. It’s kind of annoying. At least Sen. Barrasso and Lummis have obviously read the emails I’ve sent. I question anyone who believes that the 2020 was stolen from Donald Trump which Rep. Hegeman seems to. I don’t think we are getting the best representation from someone who has such poor judgement and believes such nonsense.

  3. 30 years ago, Mr. Drake would have been attacking the FBI, rather than defending them.

  4. Journalism used to be all about facts. Why don’t you explain to your readers that the proof is in the email exchanges between the government and the social platforms. The judge in that case did not make his ruling lightly and no one should be mocking the import of his findings. There is plenty of evidence and shamefully, plenty of naysayers – you included. There are thousands of emails. Regular meetings via zoom to discuss parameters and policy changes. Your bio must be another opinion held by you. Certainly not one based in facts. Ms Hageman has been remarkably based in intellect in her questioning of government and witnesses on their behalf. I enjoy watching her back them down, especially when fighting for Wyomingite rights. Too bad your point is to insult.

    1. Just stop with the lies. The fantasy of a stolen election has gone on long enough. There is no video proof, no damning emails, no proof. You have been manipulated into believing lies and nonsense. Fox Corp would NOT pay 800 million dollars if there was truth to any of your claims.

      The quote shared by your fellow anti-fact crusader is fitting.. Santiago once said “Ignorance can be cured but stupid is forever.”

    2. If you watched the hearing Director Wray cut to the chase and told Rep. Hageman she was insane. She did adjust her glasses a tiny bit after that blast.

  5. I have noticed anyone who follows Trump turn into toxic individuals.His BS is destroying this country.

  6. The hag is an embarrassment to Wyoming and to the democratic process. She’s just trying to get a name for herself and she will go however, low it needs to be to get there.

    Here’s a scary thought the hag for vice president under Trump. I will sell my house and move to a country that has the less corrupt government.

    I’m not sure her mouth stops yapping even if she’s asleep. The people of Wyoming were fooled by a fool and the hag got elected.

    It will take a couple decades to fix what the orange fat one did to this country and the world. If he were to get elected again, not even heaven can help us.

  7. Harriet Hageman has been a very poor choice for Wyoming as she only parrots the MAGA crowd and the Trump doctrine. So sad that Wyoming seems to keep electing weak and questionable folks to represent them!

  8. Pretty rich that Ms. Hageman is making accusations that the FBI and other federal agencies of being corrupt. Yet, she readily takes “contributions” from Lobbyists and Corporate PACs. Just who is corrupt? And what does any of this have to do with representing Wyoming and her constituents?

  9. Keep an eye, please, on Harriet’s life-long efforts to convert public lands to private. I don’t minimize our congresswoman’s ability to do damage to the Justice Department with her visions of conspiracy and disdain for the truth.

    But I worry that these public appearances create a smokescreen of crazy haze for whatever she intends to do to the land management agencies and the land we all treasure.

    1. I agree, just one more “land Baron” facilitator and working only for the rich who would plunder all of the natural resources without any concern for what the majority of Wyoites want or what is good and just.

  10. Hageman’s behavior is an embarrassment to the State of Wyoming, no matter which party you choose.

  11. “The downfall of every civilization come, not from the moral corruption of the common man, but from the moral complacency of common man in high places.”
    Baltzell Go get ’em Harriet…!! Like President Trump, expose the corruption.
    The demotic, corrupt government swamp consists of the Democrat Party and the lying media (see above article) proving what Santiago once said “Ignorance can be cured but stupid is forever.”

    1. Nice quote… how does it relate to the folks who think the election was stolen?

      Are watermarked ballots still a thing?

  12. Honesty and truth is not necessary in the gullible ol’ party any longer. Fear mongering, conspiracy theories, and an unhealthy dose of victim mentality is the currency of the chrump acolytes.

  13. I saw a video of Hageman interviewing Lina Khan. I couldn’t even tell what it was about, because Khan couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Hageman kept asking leading questions, demanding yes or no answers, and cutting her off. When I was in college I attended a HUAC (House Un-american Activities Committee) hearing. They used exactly the same tactics, to destroy rather than to gather information.