President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE on Tuesday said he found FBI Director Christopher Wray's congressional testimony "ridiculous" after the bureau leader said he wouldn't use the term "spying" to describe lawful investigative efforts.
The president was asked as he left the White House for a trip to Louisiana if he still has confidence in Wray. He did not directly answer, but criticized the FBI chief for his comments.
"I didn’t understand his answer because I thought the attorney general answered it perfectly," Trump told reporters.
"So I certainly didn’t understand that answer," he added. "I thought it was a ridiculous answer."
Wray's comments came at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing last week.
When asked about Attorney General William BarrBill BarrClinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation Milley moved to limit Trump military strike abilities after Jan. 6, Woodward book claims: report MORE's use of the term "spying" to describe the FBI’s surveillance of members of the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election, Wray responded that he wouldn’t use the term. He noted that different people “use different colloquial phrases.”
Trump's remarks Tuesday put him at odds with one of his top intelligence officials. Trump personally tapped Wray to lead the FBI in 2017, after abruptly ousting James ComeyJames Brien ComeyGiuliani told investigators it was OK to 'throw a fake' during campaign DOJ watchdog unable to determine if FBI fed Giuliani information ahead of 2016 election Biden sister has book deal, set to publish in April MORE as FBI director.
“Well, that’s not the term I would use,” Wray said at the hearing last Tuesday when asked about Barr's use of the term. He went on to emphasize the need to ensure that any surveillance is done in accordance with the law.
“Well, I mean, look, lots of people have different colloquial phrases. I believe that the FBI is engaged in investigative activity and part of investigative activity includes surveillance activity of different shapes and sizes,” Wray said in response to a question from Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSenate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken We have a plan that prioritizes Afghanistan's women — we're just not using it Scott Brown's wife files to run for Congress MORE (D-N.H.).
“To me, the key question is making sure that it is done by the book, consistent with our lawful authorities," Wray continued. “That’s the key question. Different people use different colloquial phrases.”
Wray later said he did not have any evidence personally that the FBI engaged in illegal surveillance during the campaign. He hesitated to answer questions about whether he believed FBI agents had “spied” on the Trump campaign.
Wray pointed to the ongoing review by the Justice Department inspector general, who is exploring whether the FBI followed relevant procedures when applying for a surveillance warrant to wiretap former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and is said to be wrapping up soon.
Barr told the same Appropriations panel in April that he was looking into the “genesis and conduct” of the original counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference and links between the Trump campaign and Moscow, which will, in part, involve looking at the results of Inspector General Michael Horowitz's review.
“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal," Barr said, later clarifying that he was not asserting that "improper surveillance" occurred but that he was looking into whether it had.
Republicans, including the president, have clamored for further investigation into the origins of the Russia probe, alleging it was started by agents biased against Trump.
“He’s trying to get a better understanding of the circumstances at the department and the FBI surrounding the initiation of this particular investigation,” Wray said of Barr’s review last week. “He and I have been in fairly close contact about it and we are trying to work together to help him get the understanding that he needs on that subject. I think that’s appropriate.”
The New York Times reported late Monday that Barr has tapped John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, to examine the origins of the FBI’s Russia counterintelligence investigation. The Hill has not independently confirmed the decision.
Asked about the report on Tuesday, Trump said he did not know about it but that he's "proud of our attorney general that he is looking into it."
Updated at 12:30 p.m.