Wray grilled on FBI’s handling of Jan. 6
FBI Director Christopher Wray was largely on the defensive Thursday as lawmakers and Democrats in particular picked apart the bureau’s actions surrounding the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, as well as its approach to domestic extremists.
Wray’s appearance before the House Judiciary Committee follows a report from senators investigating widespread failures across a number of intelligence and law enforcement agencies ahead of the riot.
“The FBI’s inaction in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6 is simply baffling. It is hard to tell whether FBI Headquarters merely missed the evidence — which had been flagged by your field offices and was available online for all the world to see — or whether the bureau saw the intelligence, underestimated the threat and simply failed to act. Neither is acceptable. We need your help to get to the bottom of it,” Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said.
The FBI has faced scrutiny over its failure to not more aggressively highlight a Jan. 5 notice from the Norfolk field office warning that Trump supporters were telling others to “Stop calling this a march, or rally, or a protest. Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die,” and urging violence at the Capitol.
“Given the framing of the information, we decided, out of an abundance of caution to pass it on,” Wray said, even though it was “raw, unverified information without a specific identity attached to it.”
“The way we look at it is we passed it on not one, not two, but three different ways in order to make sure that it got through to the people who needed to have that information to exercise their responsibilities to engage in physical security, which is not what we do,” he said.
But Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) said he was perplexed that the bureau didn’t do much follow-up after passing along the intel.
“You passed it on and what did you do to follow up with this really important information about what may take place the next day?” he asked.
“It was damning enough information — certainly it seems [odd], in retrospect, that, though raw, you wouldn’t have been followed up to make sure that every step was followed,” Deutch added.
“It seems like there should have been more than simply saying, ‘It was the night before; it came in late; we just passed it on through our channels,’ ” he added.
Democrats on the committee also increasingly pressured Wray to use the FBI to go after former President Trump for his involvement in the riot.
Wray was asked by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) if anyone at the FBI is investigating “Donald Trump’s actions, words, [and] deeds, on that day.”
“I’m not aware of any investigation that specifically goes to that,” Wray said.
But he later noted that the Justice Department has filed more than 30 conspiracy changes, a more serious charge that also allows the government to more systematically go after extremist groups such as the Oath Keepers or Proud Boys, including their leadership and finances.
Wray’s response could potentially undercut GOP arguments that an independent commission to investigate Jan. 6 is unnecessary given ongoing probes by the Justice Department. The Senate report likewise did not examine Trump’s role in the riot.
“I would urge you to do it. He said come to Washington on the day of the Electoral College [certification] a month earlier — no other day — and he said it will be big and it will be wild. I read that as violence to occur,” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) told Wray in a later exchange.
The hearing also displayed the pressures both parties are placing on the FBI to prioritize investigations into various types of extremists and activists.
Nadler said he is “disturbed by the Bureau’s current practice of lumping together a wide range of activities under the term ‘racially motivated violent extremism,’ as if there were any equivalence whatsoever between Black and brown activists marching for justice and the right-wing extremists who attacked the Capitol Police and tried to hang Mike Pence.”
Wray has consistently identified white supremacists as the largest and most concerning contributors of racially motivated violent extremism, a point he often made under the Trump administration.
“Part of the reason we changed some of our nomenclature … it gets back to this idea that we have one standard. It doesn’t matter what your motivation is, or how despicable your motivation is,” he said.
But Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said the FBI should not be “generally reluctant” to identify people as white supremacists.
“If you don’t name the problem and claim the problem, it’s hard to tame the problem,” Jeffries said.
Republicans, however, reiterated their concerns that the bureau isn’t as focused on last summer’s occasionally violent Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
“Why do you feel that you need to qualify antifa and [Black Lives Matter] violence as exploiting otherwise peaceful protests, when you didn’t do the same for Jan. 6?” asked Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.).
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) also pushed Wray to differentiate between Trump rallygoers and those who entered the Capitol.
“You were careful to note that most of the protesters who were leftists last summer were basically peaceful, but you haven’t said that about [the] 100,000 or 200,000 people [who] showed up on January 6,” he said.
Republicans also had questions about the FBI’s recent reclassification of the 2017 shooting at a GOP practice for the Congressional Baseball Game as an incident of domestic terror, reversing an earlier conclusion that the gunman sought “suicide by cop.”
“We are seeing much more often now, not people committing attacks based on some nice cookie-cutter ideology and this is their sole motivation, but rather people who take bits and pieces of things together with some personal beef and then attack. We consider that to be in many ways the most increasingly common form of extremism,” Wray said, calling the 2017 shooter, “an early example of that phenomenon.”
Though the partisan bickering was milder than in many previous hearings, Nadler used his opener to mock GOP Rep. Andrew Clyde (Ga.) who last month compared the scene of Jan. 6 to a “normal tourist visit.”
Committee Democrats prepared a video with Clyde’s remarks, contrasting them with footage from the day of the attack.
“Tourists indeed,” Nadler said.
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