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Black lawmakers meet with FBI Director over 'Black Identity Extremists' report

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus met with FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday over the agency's "Black Identity Extremists" report.

Black lawmakers met with FBI Director Christopher Wray on Capitol Hill on Wednesday over concerns about a bureau report targeting "Black Identity Extremists."

In what was described as a "open and serious meeting," Congressional Black Caucus members, including Reps. Val Demings, Karen Bass, Bonnie Watson Coleman, and others spoke with Wray for nearly two hours regarding the bureau's internal assessment "Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement Officers,” that was written in August and posted online.

CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond, D-La., called the meeting a "good first step."

"It's a breath of fresh air to talk to this director compared to our relationship with the Justice Department," Richmond said to a group of reporters after the meeting. "We think that his background and we will give the benefit of the doubt based on his actions, words, and background today, that he is really trying to lead the FBI in a very transparent, fair way."

Richmond also said Wray elaborated on the origin of the report and said that it was not written during his administration, but that Wray owned up to it. He reiterated that the title, "Black Identity Extremists" is very concerning.

"It's a characterization and it's very inaccurate of the movement that is going on," Richmond said. "We don't want anyone to view Black Lives Matter or other organizations that protest as an extremist group or a domestic terrorist group because we think that's very dangerous."

The CBC sent a letter to Wray in October requesting a meeting to discuss the report citing the bureau’s “troubling history” of utilizing its broad investigatory powers to target black citizens and said it is similar to COINTELPRO, a DOJ surveillance program that infiltrated and disrupted civil rights, anti-war, and political opposition groups.

NBC News reached out to the FBI for comment on the meeting today, but did not receive a response.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, who grilled Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the report during testimony to the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month, said the caucus was going to give Wray a chance to deal with the document.

"It was straight forward and to the point, I think the point this made was, 'Who is this pertaining to? Who makes the interpretation who becomes a "black identity extremist?"' Jackson Lee told NBC News after the meeting. "I think we've opened the eyes hopefully of the director and hopefully there will be some engaging discussion and we will work through this."

Though lawmakers said many questions were asked and it was a Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., also said Wray was receptive to concerns over the report, but said he couldn't identify an activist group that falls into the category of "black identity extremists" and the category is a "phantom menace that remains unresolved."

"The open question remains, 'What the heck are we doing here putting forth a report with no sustenance that targets individuals?'" Jeffries told NBC News. '"He seemed sincere in hearing our concerns, but we will see what he does with those concerns."

The report has also alarmed activists, some who fear it will lead to a modern day "Blacklist." The ACLU filed a FIOA request for records included in the report.

When asked about the report in October, a spokesperson for the FBI told NBC News the FBI does not comment on intelligence products.

Image: FBI Director Christopher Wray
FBI Director Christopher Wray during a meeting with U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) on Capitol Hill July 13, 2017 in Washington.Alex Wong / Getty Images file

In a statement to NBC News in October, the FBI said, in part, “Our focus is not on membership in particular groups but on individuals who commit violence and other criminal acts. Furthermore, the FBI does not and will not police ideology. When an individual takes violent action based on belief or ideology and breaks the law, the FBI will enforce the rule of law."

Richmond said they will continue the discussion about the report with Wray at a Homeland Security committee meeting Thursday.

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