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FBI Director Wray faces grilling from House Republicans

Wray faced a barrage of critical questions from Republicans on the Judiciary Committee who claim federal agencies have been “weaponized” against conservatives.
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WASHINGTON — Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee grilled FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday about the alleged “weaponization” of law enforcement agencies against former President Donald Trump and conservatives and accused the FBI of failing to aggressively go after the Bidens.

Democrats on the panel pressed Wray about Trump’s involvement in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and his alleged mishandling of classified documents, with which he has been charged.

With the focus quickly turning to the critical 2024 election, lawmakers in both parties tried to use Wray’s high-profile appearance on Capitol Hill to score political points and beat up the opposing party. The fiery hearing lasted for nearly six hours.

Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a top Trump defender, lodged a litany of complaints against Wray, accusing the FBI of downplaying the Hunter Biden laptop story before the 2020 election, supporting the suppression of conservative voices on social media, tracking threats against school boards and retaliating against whistleblowers.

“I haven’t even talked about the spying that took place of a presidential campaign or the raiding of a former president’s home,” said Jordan, who also leads the GOP’s new Weaponization subcommittee. “Maybe what’s more frightening is what happens if you come forward and tell Congress you’re a whistleblower. Come tell the Congress what’s going on? Look out. You will be retaliated against.”

FBI Director Wray faces grilling by GOP House members
FBI Director Christopher Wray in Detroit in 2019.Bill Pugliano / Getty Images file

Throughout the hearing, Wray, whom Trump appointed in August 2017, defended his employees’ work, touting the FBI’s progress in addressing violent crime, protecting the U.S. from foreign threats, seizing dangerous drugs like fentanyl and investigating the Chinese government. At one point, he said it was “insane” that he was being accused of political bias against conservatives, given his own background; Wray, as Democrats noted at the hearing, is a registered Republican.

In a heated exchange, conservative firebrand Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., read Wray an alleged 2017 text message in which Hunter Biden was purported to claim to a Chinese businessman that he was sitting with his father — which President Joe Biden has denied. A lawyer for Hunter Biden has said the text is fake.

Gaetz called it a “shakedown” of the businessman and accused Wray of being “deeply uncurious” about the text.

“Are you protecting the Bidens?” Gaetz asked.

“Absolutely not,” Wray replied.

Gaetz later lambasted the FBI for abusing warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which regulates the surveillance and collection of foreign intelligence on domestic soil. He accused FBI officials of “using the FISA process as their, like, creepy personal snooping machine.”

“People trusted in the FBI more when J. Edgar Hoover was running the place than when you are,” Gaetz told Wray, “and the reason is because you don’t give straight answers.” 

Democrats trained their fire on Trump. Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the panel, asked Wray to detail exactly how the FBI executed a search warrant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago golf resort in Florida to recover classified documents and the extent the government went to to get the material before it took that serious step.

“President Trump had many, many chances to voluntarily comply with the FBI and DOJ requests. Instead, he made the choice to keep these highly classified defense and national security documents,” Nadler said, saying it was "absurd" that Republicans would attack the FBI "for doing their job and ensuring that no person is above the law.”

“When in doubt, Chairman Jordan investigates the investigators,” Nadler said.

Wray did get some unusual praise from a conservative on the committee.

“You’re still a registered Republican, and I hope you don’t change your party affiliation after this hearing is over,” Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., a member of the far-right Freedom Caucus, told Wray.

“I want to thank you,” he continued. “I want to thank you for leading an agency ... that protects Americans from foreign terrorists, an agency that protects Americans from spies from China and Russia and cybercrime and public corruption and organized crime and drug cartels and human traffickers and white-collar criminals."

Wray spoke as special counsel Jack Smith is pursuing an indictment of Trump over allegations he mishandled classified documents and an investigation of his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., has threatened to initiate proceedings to hold Wray in contempt of Congress.

In his opening statement, Wray said it was important to him to highlight the FBI’s work that gets less attention.

“I want to talk about the sheer breadth and impact of the work the FBI’s 38,000 employees are doing each and every day, because the work the men and women of the FBI do to protect the American people goes way beyond the one or two investigations that seem to capture all the headlines,” he said.

Last year, the FBI arrested more than 20,000 violent criminals and child predators, Wray said, “an average of almost 60 bad guys taken off the streets per day, every day.”

Wray said the FBI is conducting more than 300 investigations into the leadership of drug cartels and has already “seized hundreds of kilograms of fentanyl this year alone.” The bureau, he said, also has thousands of active investigations into the Chinese government’s efforts to “steal our most precious secrets, rob our businesses of their ideas and innovation and repress freedom of speech right here in the United States.”

“And that’s just scratching the surface. The men and women of the FBI work tirelessly every day to protect the American people from a staggering array of threats,” he said.

In a longer prepared statement submitted to the committee outlining the FBI’s top priorities, Wray also emphasized the “urgent legislative matter” of renewing FISA provisions that are set to expire at the end of the year, including a statute, Section 702, that allows the federal government to conduct warrantless surveillance of foreigners outside the U.S., even if they’re communicating with Americans.

Wray warned, “Loss of this vital provision, or its reauthorization in a narrowed form, would raise profound risks.” It could “mean substantially impairing, or in some cases entirely eliminating, our ability to find and disrupt many of most serious security threats,” he said.

Jordan has criticized the FBI and Wray over numerous topics, including a federal investigation into Hunter Biden, who is expected to plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts of failing to pay taxes. Biden also faces a separate felony gun possession charge that is likely to be dismissed if he meets certain conditions.

Jordan subpoenaed Wray this year for documents after he said a withdrawn memo had focused on the FBI's exploration of possible domestic violent extremism in Catholic churches. He also subpoenaed Wray and other members of the Biden administration for documents related to local school board meetings amid claims that FBI divisions had focused on potential threats at such meetings.