FBI: 'Concerned' citizen spurred visit to Michigan Senate staffer

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — FBI agents' mysterious late October visit to the home of a Michigan senator's chief of staff occurred because of a complaint from a "concerned citizen," a bureau spokeswoman said Tuesday.

On Monday the national news website The Intercept revealed that FBI agents had shown up at Katie Reiter's home on Oct. 29 to question her without prior notification. Reiter works for state Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Beverly Hills. That morning, the agents told Reiter they were visiting because of an alleged "conversation online about the use of tear gas and the election," she said.

The visit came 10 days after Bayer and Reiter discussed during a private Zoom call introducing a bill to ban the use of tear gas by police agencies.

Sen. Rosemary Bayer

"The FBI visit raised alarming questions about why a confidential legislative discussion warranted police scrutiny," The Intercept story said.

In a Tuesday morning interview, Reiter said the law enforcement agents weren't aware of her position working for the Legislature when they visited her home. Reiter said she told the agents tear gas was mentioned on the Zoom call because of the legislative proposal that was being worked on and the agents said they weren't at liberty to say how they knew about the discussion.

Bayer, who has a background in software technology, has theorized that law enforcement potentially had been eavesdropping and tracked words that were used on the Zoom call because they had mentioned "tear gas," "election" and "drop," a term that can also mean introducing a bill in the Legislature.

"Should we drop the tear gas bill before the election or wait until after?" Bayer said of a question that could have been discussed on the Zoom call.

FBI spokeswoman Mara Schneider said Tuesday that local and federal agencies "received a complaint from a concerned citizen who overheard comments about the use of tear gas during the upcoming election."

"In response to those reports, an FBI special agent and task force officer interviewed Sen. Bayer’s chief of staff. At no time prior to that interview did the citizen or the FBI know the reported comments were made in the context of proposed legislation," Schneider said.

"The FBI works closely with our federal, state and local partners to identify and mitigate any threats to public safety, and we remain committed to fulfilling that mission while upholding the Constitution and protecting the rights and privacy of all citizens," Schneider added.

On Tuesday, a day after The Intercept story ran, an FBI official met with Bayer. The FBI informed her "that they did not use electronic surveillance in this case," a statement issued on behalf of the senator said.

Earlier Tuesday, Reiter told The Detroit News a dishwasher repairman was also in her home while the Zoom call took place. Asked if it was possible the repairman reported the call, she responded, "We can't say there's zero possibility of that."

Regardless, Bayer has voiced concerns about why FBI agents visited Reiter's home without first researching her background.

"No one should have to go through what she experienced," Bayer said. "I look forward to hearing from the FBI their plan to prevent these situations from happening in the future.”