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EXCLUSIVE – Twelve Republican senators are demanding an explanation from the Justice Department about the FBI’s decision to surround the home of a pro-life activist and arrest him in front of his family.
In a Tuesday letter, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and 11 other senators asked Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray for more information about the arrest and indictment of pro-life activist Mark Houck. Officials have charged Houck with violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE Act), apparently in relation to an incident in which Houck pushed an abortion clinic worker who allegedly yelled profanities at Houck’s 11-year-old son.
While the incident between the two parties was dropped, the Justice Department told Houck in April 2022 that he was being investigated for violating the FACE Act. The Senate letter says Houck’s lawyer said he was willing to cooperate in the investigation, and then, last week, as many as 20 FBI agents surrounded Houck’s home “wearing armor plated tactical vests, ballistic helmets and holding ballistic shields and long guns.”
The senators are demanding to know why DOJ took such a heavy hand with Houck, and whether it reflects a political bias within the department.
“This extraordinary fact pattern requires additional information from the Justice Department and the FBI relating to why Mr. Houck was not allowed to self-report for his arrest and arraignment and whether political considerations were made to approve and execute the search warrant,” they wrote.
They also asked why it took so long for the DOJ to indict Houck, a list of officials who approved the investigation and the arrest, how many officials were involved.
The FACE Act makes it a federal crime, with potentially steep fines and jail time, to use or threaten to use force to “injure, intimidate, or interfere” with a person seeking reproductive health services.
Fox News Digital obtained an email from one of Houck’s attorneys, former federal prosecutor Matt Heffron, to U.S. Attorney General Anita Eve in which he said a FACE Act charge is unlikely to hold up in court. Heffron concluded that, “If the government decides to go forward nonetheless, I will accept a summons on my client’s behalf, rather put Mr. Houck and his family through needless disruption.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. (Carolyn Kaster-Pool/Getty Images)
The senators said in their letter that Eve did not respond to Heffron after at least two other attempts, and that Heffron, “made clear to the committee that he and Mr. Houck were cooperative with the Justice Department; however, in return the Justice Department failed to communicate with them.”
“Given their cooperation with federal law enforcement, the family did not expect to be awakened at 7 a.m. with reportedly over 20 FBI agents surrounding their home wearing armor plated tactical vests, ballistic helmets and holding ballistic shields and long guns,” the senators wrote.
The senators also asked whether Houck’s arrest complied with the Justice Department’s “use of force” policy, citing a May 20 memo from Garland to DOJ employees.
Mark Houck seen with his children. Houck was arrested on Friday by the FBI stemming from a reported altercation with a man outside of a Planned Parenthood in Philadelphia. (Thomas More Society )
“Under the title of de-escalation, the memo states, ‘Officers will be trained in de-escalation tactics and techniques designed to gain voluntary compliance from a subject before using force, and such tactics and techniques should be employed if objectively feasible and they would not increase the danger to the officer or others. When feasible, reducing the need for force allows officers to secure their own safety as well as the safety of the public’,” the senators wrote.
The senators note that Houck in addition to already being cooperative with the government, Houck’s lawyers also told the committee that Anita Eve “recommended a ‘Return on own Recognizance’ bond meaning Mr. Houck was free to leave without having to post bail.”
“This indicates that the government did not view Mr. Houck as a threat to the community, which calls into question why heavily armed FBI agents were needed to arrest him in the first place,” the senators wrote.
FBI agents approaching a crime scene (Getty Images)
The FBI Philadelphia Field Office previously told Fox Digital in a statement that, “FBI agents knocked on Mr. Houck’s front door, identified themselves as FBI agents, and asked him to exit the residence. He did so and was taken into custody without incident pursuant to an indictment.”
“While it’s the FBI’s standard practice not to discuss such operational specifics, we can say that the number of personnel and vehicles widely reported as being on scene Friday is an overstatement, and the tactics used by FBI personnel were professional, in line with standard practices, and intended to ensure the safety of everyone present in and outside the residence,” the office said.
The DOJ and FBI confirmed receipt of the letter but declined further comment.