FBI chief to face grilling from lawmakers amid escalating Mueller probe

FBI chief to face grilling from lawmakers amid escalating Mueller probe
© Greg Nash

FBI Director Christopher Wray is poised to face a grilling from Republican lawmakers on Thursday morning at a time when the bureau is under mounting scrutiny from the right and outright attacks from the White House.

A bloc of House Judiciary Committee Republicans will question Wray on what they say is a disturbing double standard within the Justice Department — “unprecedented bias” against President TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE contrasted with “special” treatment given to former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWoman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Trump: CNN, MSNBC 'got scammed' into covering Russian-organized rally Pennsylvania Democrats set to win big with new district map MORE.

Republicans have long argued that Clinton was treated with kid gloves by the Obama-era Justice Department over her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of State. Clinton faced no charges, despite being called “extremely careless” by then-FBI director James Comey.


Those criticisms have intensified following reports related to a top FBI agent assigned to both special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s 2016 election interference and the now-completed probe into Clinton’s personal email server.

According to multiple reports, agent Peter Strzok was reassigned over the summer because of text messages he allegedly sent to a woman that criticized Trump and praised Clinton.

Another report suggested that Strzok was behind Comey’s decision to characterize Clinton as “extremely careless” in her use of a private email server, rather than "grossly negligent," the language in his original draft.

Trump and his allies have used the stories to bolster their argument that the Russia investigation is merely a politically motivated “witch hunt” against the president.

“We’ll investigate the unprecedented bias against President Trump that exists when we allow people who hate the president to participate in the investigations against him,” Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzBipartisan bill offered in House to protect marijuana users in legal weed states House Republican says Trump calls him regularly ‘because I defend him on television’ The Memo: Nunes ‘bombshell’ fails to move debate MORE (R-Fla.), a member of the Judiciary panel, said in a Wednesday press conference calling for an investigation into the matter.

“Everyday we learn more information that reflects the double standard that unfortunately seems to be pervasive at the FBI and the Department of Justice," he said. "A witch hunt continues against the president with tremendous bias, no purpose and no end in sight.”

Gaetz, along with fellow committee members Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller GohmertEleven lawmakers have used campaign funds to pay NRA dues: report House Republican says Trump calls him regularly ‘because I defend him on television’ Right revolts on budget deal MORE (R-Texas) and Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), sent a letter to Wray earlier this week pressing him on the Clinton probe as well as how the bureau has used the so-called Steele dossier, a salacious and unverified compendium of opposition research into then-candidate Donald Trump.

Republicans are concerned that the dossier was used as the basis for a clandestine surveillance warrant they say may have been improperly used by the Obama administration to spy on Trump transition team officials.

FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe has also long drawn scrutiny from GOP members over donations made to his wife’s political campaign by Clinton ally Terry McAuliffe.

Some former bureau officials say there is a double standard at the FBI — but it’s not specific to Clinton.

Woven through FBI guidelines — a 600-page doorstop known as the "Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide," or DIOG — is a mandate to use the least intrusive means necessary to assess culpability.

Cases involving public officials and other figures of notoriety are given a special designation in bureau guidelines — known as a sensitive investigative matter, or a SIM — that triggers the involvement of higher-level officials.

It’s a way of signaling to officials that the case will receive extra scrutiny from the media and the public, former officials say. While it doesn’t change the guidelines, it does put officials on notice that they should proceed with extra care.

Democrats will raise questions on Thursday about recent tweets from President Trump blasting the bureau’s reputation as “in tatters,” as well as the issue of whether the president obstructed justice in the federal investigation into Russia's election meddling.

Wray took over as FBI director after Trump dismissed Comey in May — a move that the president later acknowledged was related to the Russia investigation.

Democrats have long argued that Trump fired the towering former director to stifle the Russia investigation, a general act that has resulted in obstruction convictions in the past.

Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, will also be a point of questioning for Democrats on Thursday.

Flynn recently pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and questions have continued to swirl about when the president was aware of Flynn's mischaracterizations about his contacts with Russian officials — specifically, whether he knew before he allegedly pressured Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn.

It remains a hotly debated question whether a sitting president can commit the crime of obstruction of justice as a legal matter — or whether he is effectively immune to that charge, as the White House claims.

Trump’s heightened frustration with the probe over the weekend led to a string of tweets in which the president argued that Clinton received special treatment from the FBI and that the agency was damaged by Comey’s leadership.

“After years of Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters — worst in History! But fear not, we will bring it back to greatness,” Trump tweeted.

The president repeatedly cited reports about Strzok.

“Now it all starts to make sense,” he tweeted.

Wray reached out to the FBI workforce after the tweets, according to The New York Times, writing that he was “inspired by example after example of professionalism and dedication to justice demonstrated around the bureau. It is truly an honor to represent you.”

The letter did not reference Trump by name.