President Trump’s hand-picked FBI director said Thursday that the bureau is trying to get ahead of the threat of Russian interference in future elections by standing up a task force to combat foreign influence.
Christopher Wray, who Trump chose to replace ousted FBI Director James Comey in June, made the comments to lawmakers on the House Homeland Security Committee at a hearing on worldwide threats.
“Needless to say, I take any effort to interfere with our election system by Russia or any other nation state or any non-nation state extremely seriously because it strikes right at the heart of who we are as a country,” Wray told Rep. Kathleen RiceKathleen Maura RiceFive takeaways: House passes Biden's sweeping benefits bill Dems brace for score on massive Biden bill Democrats bullish they'll reach finish line this week MORE (D-N.Y.) when asked what the bureau specifically is doing to counter future Russian interference.
“We’re focused very much forward-looking at the next couple of election cycles,” Wray said.
Trump himself has, at times, appeared to doubt the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, in part to help him win. More recently, Trump indicated that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin when Putin denied Moscow’s involvement.
The FBI director said that he personally had set up a “foreign influence task force” within the bureau comprised of different divisions, including counterintelligence, cyber and criminal investigative elements.
Wray also said the FBI has been coordinating with the Department of Homeland Security, which is taking the lead on helping states protect voter registration databases and other election-related infrastructure from cyberattacks.
The bureau, Wray said, is coordinating with international partners to “learn from what Russians in other countries are trying to with other elections in terms of the trade craft, et cetera.”
“We’re trying to get in front of it and figure out and be on the lookout for efforts to interfere going forward,” Wray said.
Trump removed Comey from the FBI in May, later indicating that the investigation into Russia's election interference factored into his thinking.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly investigating possible obstruction of justice as part of the Russia probe at the Justice Department.