Wray defends FBI after 'sobering' watchdog report

Wray defends FBI after 'sobering' watchdog report
© Greg Nash

FBI Director Christopher Wray told reporters Thursday afternoon that he was "disappointed" by the findings of the Justice Department office of inspector general's (OIG) report on the bureau's conduct during the 2016 election, saying that the bureau accepted its recommendations.

“As far as the report goes, there are some sobering lessons in there,” Wray said in a brief press conference held shortly after the 500-page report was made public. “Number one, the importance of trying to make sure we avoid even the appearance of bias in all of our work."

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But he also voiced support for the integrity of the bureau as an institution, tacitly defending the law enforcement agency from months of broadsides from President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE and other Republicans who have damned it as “corrupt” and “biased.”

“The OIG report makes clear that we’ve got some work to do,” Wray said. “But let’s be clear on the scope of this report. It’s focused on a specific set of events back in 2016, and a small number of FBI employees connected with those events.

“Nothing in the report impugns the integrity of our workforce as a whole, or the FBI as an institution.”

In his report released Thursday afternoon, inspector general Michael Horowitz found that none of the decisions he examined from the bureau’s investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton: FBI investigation into Kavanaugh could be done quickly Hillary Clinton urges Americans to 'check and reject' Trump's 'authoritarian tendencies' by voting in midterms EXCLUSIVE: Trump says exposing ‘corrupt’ FBI probe could be ‘crowning achievement’ of presidency MORE’s handling of classified information were tainted by bias.

But he hammered former FBI Director James Comey for taking it upon himself to break department policy, often without the knowledge of senior Justice Department officials — conduct that Horowitz condemned as “insubordinate” and “extraordinary.”

And he fiercely criticized five FBI employees assigned to the case who exchanged text messages on bureau devices that were critical of then-candidate Donald Trump.

Two of those of those officials, counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, were called out by name. Horowitz concluded that their conduct cast a “cloud” over the investigation and that it was “antithetical to the core values of the FBI and the Department of Justice."

In one particularly shocking exchange, Strzok told Page "We'll stop it," after being asked, "[Trump's] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!"

Wray declined to reveal how many of the five officials referred by Horowitz for an internal conduct review are being examined by the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility.

In its official response to report, the bureau emphasized that while it “recognizes mistakes were made…. These mistakes were errors of judgment, violations of or disregard for policy, or...simply not the best courses of action.”

“They were not, in any respect, the result of bias or improper considerations.”

The report has largely divided Washington along partisan lines.

Democratic lawmakers have zeroed in on the notion that Comey’s conduct damaged Clinton’s bid for the presidency, while Republicans have argued that it shows systemic bias against Trump.

“After reviewing the findings, one can reach no other conclusion than the FBI sorely mishandled the investigation into Secretary Hillary Clinton,” Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsGraham to renew call for second special counsel Hillicon Valley: Sanders finds perfect target in Amazon | Cyberattacks are new fear 17 years after 9/11 | Firm outs alleged British Airways hackers | Trump to target election interference with sanctions | Apple creating portal for police data requests Graham: Obama, not Trump, politicized DOJ and FBI MORE (R-N.C.), a spirited critic of the FBI, said in a statement. “Right from the beginning, it's clear that Secretary Hillary Clinton was treated differently —and not for good reason.”

Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerRussia docs order sets Trump on collision with intel community Hillicon Valley: North Korean IT firm hit with sanctions | Zuckerberg says Facebook better prepared for midterms | Big win for privacy advocates in Europe | Bezos launches B fund to help children, homeless Bipartisan trio asks US intelligence to investigate ‘deepfakes’ MORE (D-Va.), meanwhile, said Thursday that "the actions of the then-FBI director more than one time actually benefited Trump's campaign and his election chances."