On Friday, Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison lent an ear to five peace activists who were raided by the FBI in September. While unclear about what legislative action he could take on their behalf, Ellison conveyed dismay with the raids.
The activists need the help because during the raids the FBI issued subpoenas from a Chicago grand jury to nine Minnesotans. These subpoenas were never revoked, but the federal attorney told the Minnesotan’s attorney that the appearance dates in October were suspended in view of the target’s promised refusal to testify. There is a rumor that three of the nine will be served new subpoenas, possible with immunity to testify. If that is the case refusal to testify under that subpoena will result in jail time up to 18 months. In a similar situation, an animal rights activist served four months in an Iowa jail.
The activists encouraged Ellison to circulate a “Dear Colleague” letter to other members of the Progressive Caucus asking for support of an investigation of the FBI actions. But at a meeting with the five FBI targets and several peace groups, Ellison reminded them that he could not interfere with an ongoing investigation.
The FBI raids in Minneapolis appear to fit a pattern of behavior withing the agency. In early September the Department of Justice Inspector General’s reported about FBI malfeasance in surveillance of and hassling peace groups. Another Department of Justice report revealed extensive cheating in FBI agent examinations.
In 1975 when the FBI was having severe ethical lapses following the Watergate scandal, a Senate committee chaired by Senator Frank Church investigated the FBI. The Church committee investigation severely limited the FBI’s scope of actions against citizens. It is possible another such Congressional investigation into FBI activity could happen again.