FBI Director Christopher Wray carried a heavy burden when he appeared before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. As Republicans pounded him with withering criticisms over his role in the Trump documents case and his efforts to combat right-wing extremism, he was tasked with sticking up not only for himself but the entire federal law enforcement community.
One by one, GOP lawmakers put Wray on the defensive, alleging that the FBI has systematically targeted conservative Americans under his watch, including former President Donald Trump. “The idea that I’m biased against conservatives seems somewhat insane to me, given my own personal background,” said Wray, a registered Republican who was appointed by Trump.
Wray’s testimony comes as Republicans seek to tarnish the Biden administration’s reputation ahead of the 2024 election and delegitimize the U.S. justice system after Trump’s federal criminal prosecution. At the center of their effort is an attempt to portray a weaponized Justice Department that acts on President Joe Biden’s behalf.
The hearing was Wray’s first congressional testimony since Trump’s indictment last month for allegedly mishandling national secrets and obstructing the government’s efforts to reclaim them. “The American people have lost faith in the FBI,” said Republican Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana. “This is about whether the very system of justice in our country can be trusted anymore.”
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Wray strenuously rejected GOP allegations that he has shielded Hunter Biden, the president’s son who recently struck a plea deal for misdemeanor tax charges. House Republicans plan to ramp up their investigation into the younger Biden after an Internal Revenue Service whistleblower said he received special treatment from federal prosecutors.
At one point, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida asked Wray point blank: “Are you protecting the Bidens?” Wray answered: “Absolutely not.”
Wray also responded to a far-right conspiracy theory that the Jan. 6 insurrection was really an FBI sting operation. “This notion that somehow the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was part of some operation orchestrated by FBI sources and agents is ludicrous and is a disservice to our brave, hard-working, dedicated men and women.”
Democrats on the panel mostly came to his defense. While some questioned Wray over the FBI’s online surveillance practices, many sought to vindicate the agency’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club last year following the former President’s refusal to return classified documents to the National Archives.
“They seem incapable of assigning any agency or responsibility to Donald Trump for problems that are Trump’s and Trump’s alone,” Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, the committee’s ranking member, said of Republicans. “When they do not like the outcome, they investigate the investigators and work to discredit the outcome.”
For his part, Wray pushed back on the claim made by some Trump allies that the Biden Administration raided the former President’s home. “I would not call it a raid,” he told legislators. “I would call it the execution of a lawful search warrant.”
Ultimately, the findings of the search of Trump’s South Florida estate led to his indictment last month. In a 49-page filing, prosecutors included photographic evidence that Trump stored boxes of classified information in various locations at Mar-a-Lago. “There are specific rules about where to store classified information and that those need to be stored in a SCIF,” Wray said, referring to a sensitive compartmented information facility. “In my experience, ballrooms, bathrooms, and bedrooms are not SCIFs.”
During the hearing, Wray made his first public comments since a Louisiana federal judge banned U.S. agencies from collaborating with communications platforms to combat misinformation. He said the agency would comply with the order. “We don’t ask social media companies to censor information or suppress information,” Wray told lawmakers. “At the end of the day, we’re very clear that it’s up to the social media companies to decide whether to do something about that.”
That’s unlikely to satisfy Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee and one of Wray’s most vociferous critics.
In his opening statement Wednesday, Jordan labeled the FBI’s work “Orwellian” and encouraged Democrats to join with him in pushing to move the agency’s headquarters out of the D.C. area. (He has recently called for the FBI to be relocated to Alabama.) Otherwise, he said, it should lose funding altogether. “I hope they will work with us in the appropriations process to stop the weaponization of the government against the American people,” he said.
When Wray responded to those charges later in the hearing, he tried to avoid coming across as outwardly political. Rather, he remained placid as he depicted the bureau he leads as a staid institution of crime-fighters. “Our folks take great pains to be rigorous, professional, objective,” he said. “Sometimes that’s frustrating to others.”
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