Tennessee Bill Considers Limiting FBI's Reach, Puts Local Law Enforcement In Charge

House Bill HB2912 was heard today by Tennessee legislators in Nashville. HB2912 amends language in Tennessee Code 38-8 Section 1 with regard to the coordination between local law enforcement and the FBI. Rep. Todd Warner and Sen. Joey Hensley sponsored the bill. The bill adds language that would "limit activities and coordination of Tennessee law enforcement agencies with the FBI in cases that are non-criminal in nature, such as surveillance on Tennessee residents." Legislators will reconvene around 5:30 p.m. to vote on the bill. 

Steve Friend Goes to Tennessee to Testify

Former FBI Special Agent and FBI whistleblower Steve Friend and Tennessean Paul Vaughn, a father of 11 who was arrested by the FBI in 2021 for his pro-life views, were both present to support and testify to the necessity of the bill. Vaughn is President of Personhood Tennessee, an organization that peacefully conducts sidewalk counseling outside abortion clinics. 

During the hearing, Friend highlighted why the bill is so important. Friend explained there are legitimate instances when the FBI is brought to localities to investigate criminal activity and terrorism. In general, those cases would not be affected by this bill. However, Friend explained that in the case of terrorism, the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force is brought in to investigate cases of national security concern. As experienced by J6 defendants and pro-life advocates, it seems the FBI has allegedly been compartmentalizing or abusing its authority in part because of its unique access to classified information. Friend explains why this privilege is disempowering for local law enforcement and infringes upon citizen's liberties.

"All task force officers have a security clearance for classified intelligence that is on a need-to-know basis." Friend testified. "The FBI assigns cases to task force officers, but due to the classified nature of these investigations, a task force officer cannot tell his respective sheriff about these cases because, in the FBI view, the sheriff has no need to know. This practice disempowers the chief elected law enforcement officer in counties and prevents them from knowing what their employees are investigating. The bill before you will force the FBI to bring legitimate counterterrorism cases to an elected sheriff and seek his approval to partner on an investigation. The chief lawman ought to know about potential threats and is best equipped to decide if his agency should work with the FBI."

Friend went on to testify how the FBI has improperly handled investigations, as seen repeatedly in J6 cases and other cases related to religious beliefs and freedoms. "Mission creep," says Friend, has caused the FBI to become too broad in its "interpretation of its national security mandate." As such, Friend testified, the Bureau is effectively "border[ing] on entrapment."

In addition, Friend testified much of the recent activity on the part of the FBI has become highly politicized and has intruded upon First Amendment activities- such as the protests on Jan. 6, church attendance, or pro-life counseling outside abortion centers. Friend continued, "Multiple credible studies across the political spectrum have demonstrated that most FBI counterterrorism investigations involve subjects who are not predisposed to commit an act of terrorism. The FBI's latest domestic terrorism category is anti-government, anti-authority violent extremism."

According to Friend, the financial and personnel resources offered by the FBI are not worth the "abuse of Tennesseans' liberties" that come as a result of those resources. Ultimately, said Friend, the proposed bill will "restore power where it belongs...with the Sheriff, not the FBI." Friend told UncoverDC on Tuesday morning, "The purpose of this bill is to thwart FBI weaponization, empower elected law enforcement officials, and focus police resources on legitimate criminal and national security concerns afflicting the state. Tennesseans elect their sheriffs, not the FBI." 

Paul Vaughn Tells His Story

Vaughn's testimony spoke poignantly to Friend's testimony because it shows a local example of how the FBI overstepped its boundaries in response to what should have been Vaughn's protected speech as a counselor outside a local abortion clinic. On Mar. 5, 2021, an event in Mt. Juliet, TN, gained some attention from law enforcement, according to Vaughn. Vaughn said he and his team were "engaged in discourse talking to folks." However, instead of being handled by the sheriff or even the FBI calling him to ask him about his activity, the FBI arrived unannounced on his doorstep and loudly banged on his front door. The agents were armed to the hilt with his family present:

"Three children held by long gun in the side yard by FBI agents. I was arrested at gunpoint in front of my children, in front of my wife and kids outside my front door on the front porch. I was taken away. Not my wife, not my children, not my representative, not my governor, not my local sheriff–no one was told why I was arrested or where I was taken. It is a politically motivated FACE Act case. And it is still going on today."

Vaughn, a stalwart community member for 15 years, owns a farm and a local business. On that day, his history in the community did not seem to matter. Instead, as Friend mentioned, local authorities took a backseat to the FBI. To Friend's point, Vaughn didn't even know he was being investigated.

Vaughn said had he known he was being investigated, he would have "gladly walked down to the office and talked to the FBI...and turned himself in." Instead, he says every action from beginning to end was "politically motivated and overly aggressive." Vaughn closed his testimony with a plea to legislators to entertain the idea that "things are not as normal in our Nation today...There are things we must consider, and at some point, we've got to make the determination that we're way beyond the Pride Lands."

UncoverDC has continued to cover stories like Friend's and Vaughn's. Sadly, Friend and other courageous whistleblowers have paid the price for exposing details of the DOJ's and the FBI's weaponization against average citizens. As such,  HB2912 seeks to address fundamental, not perceived, overreach on the part of our federal government.

Friend was a special agent for the FBI for 8 1/2 years investigating violent crimes. He also served on the FBI SWAT team. In 2022, he disclosed what he believed to be "departures from case management rules established in the FBI's Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide."  He and others saw firsthand evidence of the FBI politicizing the Jan. 6, 2021, protest by unjustly bringing J6 prosecutions to "inflate the FBI statistics on domestic extremism."

Friend was also concerned about the large-scale operations being run by the FBI to arrest people "who were accused of non-violent crimes and misdemeanors." Instead of being supported for his concerns, the FBI retaliated. During a hearing on governmental misconduct in May 2023, Friend told members of Congress how the FBI had treated him because of his disclosures. 

"The FBI weaponized the security clearance processes to facilitate my removal from active duty within one month of my disclosures. In addition to an indefinite, unpaid suspension, the FBI initiated a campaign of humiliation and intimidation to punish and pressure me to resign. In violation of HIPAA individuals that the FBI leaked my private medical information to a reporter at the New York Times. In violation of the Privacy Act, the FBI refused to furnish my training records for several months."

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