FBI director in ‘hot seat’ as GOP demands reforms
FBI Director Christopher Wray is coming under fire from Republicans and allies of President Trump.
GOP lawmakers, pundits and conservative figures are signaling growing frustration with Wray over concerns that he has not moved quickly enough to “clean house” within the FBI, a frequent target of criticism for Trump.
Their concerns are linked to the FBI investigation into Russian election interference and the Trump campaign.
A Department of Justice (DOJ) watchdog found problems with Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant applications linked to former campaign adviser Carter Page, and this week the department decided to drop its case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn, saying it believed the FBI investigation had been conducted improperly.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), a member of the Judiciary Committee with oversight of the FBI, noted that “we’ve got a problem at the FBI.”
“Clearly, we had some people, and maybe still have some people, that don’t understand the rule of law, and nothing’s been done,” Kennedy said.
“I supported the FBI director enthusiastically, and I like him personally, but his silence is deafening,” he added. “The hits just keep on coming and it needs to be addressed.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that he wasn’t calling on Wray to be removed but noted “they need to up their game.”
“I think the FBI needs to show more energy in terms of solving some of these internal problems and I don’t know why it took so long to get the information out about the Flynn case,” Graham told reporters before the Justice Department’s announcement it was dropping the charges against the former three-star Army general.
Trump has weighed in on the controversy himself, signaling Friday that Wray’s job could be on the line. During a “Fox & Friends” interview, Trump said that the “jury’s still out” on Wray, but called his handling of the review of the Russia probe “disappointing.”
“Let’s see what happens with him. … It would have been a lot easier if he came out rather than skirting” the debate around the Russia investigation, Trump said.
He added that Wray was “appointed” and “recommended” by former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, another frequent Trump punching bag. Trump announced in June 2017 that he was nominating Wray to be the FBI director, roughly a month after he sent shockwaves through Washington by firing then-FBI Director James Comey.
The FBI’s national press office declined a request for comment, but the bureau circulated a statement this week defending Wray and noting that the actions driving Republican anger occurred under “prior FBI leadership,” in an apparent reference to Comey.
“Director Wray remains firmly committed to addressing the failures under prior FBI leadership while maintaining the foundational principles of rigor, objectivity, accountability, and ownership in fulfilling the Bureau’s mission to protect the American people and defend the Constitution,” the FBI said in a statement to The New York Times and other outlets.
FBI Agents Association President Brian O’Hare issued a statement after Trump’s remarks in support of Wray, saying that he “assumed office nearly three years ago during a particularly challenging time at the Bureau – and he continues to lead through unprecedented challenges with a steady hand.”
The embattled official also still has supporters within the administration and on Capitol Hill.
Attorney General William Barr defended Wray during an interview with CBS News, saying that he “has always supported and been very helpful in various investigations we’ve been running.”
“He’s been a great partner to me in our effort to restore the American people’s confidence in both the Department of Justice and the FBI. And we work very well together,” he added.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of both the Judiciary and Intelligence committees, acknowledged that Wray is in the “hot seat,” but said that he has “confidence” in him. Asked if he thought Wray’s job was safe, he added: “I hope so.”
But frustration with Wray has been simmering for months as Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz found 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in the FISA warrant applications involving Page. Wray said the department was taking dozens of steps to address Horowitz’s findings.
Those frustrations spilled over this week amid new reports about the handling of the case against Flynn, including documents that show the FBI was close to ending the investigation into him in early 2017 before an intelligence review prompted them to keep it open, according to The New York Times.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) sent Wray a letter requesting documents from the FBI’s Flynn investigation, and raised concerns about his handling of the fallout.
“We continue to learn these new details from litigation and investigations—not from you. It is well past time that you show the leadership necessary to bring the FBI past the abuses of the Obama-Biden era,” they wrote.
The pushback is a dramatic U-turn from 2017 when Wray was confirmed in a 92-5 vote on the Senate floor, with only Democrats opposing the nomination. But GOP senators say they don’t believe the FBI director has been transparent enough with them since then.
“I’m highly concerned about his lack of, really, reform within the FBI and certainly not turning over the type of documents I think he should’ve turned over to Congress a long time ago. So, no, I’m very disappointed in his performance,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said when asked if he had “confidence” in Wray’s leadership, adding that he was referring to documents related to Flynn.
Even as Republicans on Capitol Hill are signaling they are increasingly disenchanted with Wray, the backlash among conservatives and others in Trump’s orbit has been more severe, including calls for Trump to fire the country’s top law enforcement official.
Conservative commentator Dan Bongino, who interviewed Trump earlier this month, said during an interview on former White House official Sebastian Gorka’s show that he couldn’t “for the life of me understand how the current director of the FBI is still in his position.”
Meanwhile, Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro, who Trump has defended in the past, opened a recent show with a direct appeal to Trump to fire Wray.
“Mr. President, we have lost faith in the FBI and it cannot be regained until Christopher Wray is gone,” she said.
Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said that while he was not calling for Wray to be fired, he thought Wray had “been a little derelict” in addressing concerns from Congress and urged him to be more transparent.
“I think if he’s not, there’s going to be increasing pressure, you know, for him to maybe move on down the road,” Braun said. “I wouldn’t be calling for it myself. But I think he puts himself in a spot where he’s vulnerable.”
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