IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

House Oversight chair prepares to hold FBI director in contempt over document in Biden probe

Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky, said the panel will vote on holding Christopher Wray in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand over a document the panel is seeking for its investigation into the Biden family’s business dealings.
Get more newsLiveonNBC News Now

House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer, R-Ky., said Tuesday the committee is moving forward with a vote to hold FBI Director Christopher Wray in criminal contempt of Congress for failing to hand over a document in the panel's investigation of the Biden family’s business dealings.

Comer subpoenaed the FBI this month for an FD-1023 form that he and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, claim "describes an alleged criminal scheme involving then-Vice President Biden and a foreign national relating to the exchange of money for policy decisions,” without providing further details. The FBI declined to provide the document, saying it is bound by Justice Department policy, which “strictly limits when and how confidential human source information can be provided outside of the FBI.”

Wray spoke with Comer and Grassley by phone Wednesday, and after the call, the FBI said in a statement that Wray had offered to provide Comer "an opportunity to review information responsive to the subpoena in a secure manner to accommodate the committee, while protecting the confidentiality and safety of sources."

"The FBI remains committed to cooperating with the Committee in good faith,” the agency said.

In a joint statement, Comer and Grassley said Wray confirmed the existence of the FD-1023 form during the call. But he “did not commit to producing the documents,” Comer said.

“While Director Wray — after a month of refusing to even acknowledge that the form existed — has offered to allow us to see the documents in person at FBI headquarters, we have been clear that anything short of producing these documents to the House Oversight Committee is not in compliance with the subpoena,” Comer said. “If the FBI fails to hand over the FD-1023 form as required by the subpoena, the House Oversight Committee will begin contempt of Congress proceedings.”

Comer last week threatened to hold Wray in contempt if the FBI didn't provide the information by Tuesday. In a statement Tuesday, he said the FBI informed the committee that “it will not provide the unclassified documents subpoenaed” by the panel.

“The FBI’s decision to stiff-arm Congress and hide this information from the American people is obstructionist and unacceptable,” he said.

The acting assistant director of the FBI, Christopher Dunham, sent a letter to Comer on Tuesday before his contempt threat. In the letter, which was obtained by NBC News, Dunham explains why the bureau can’t comply with the committee’s subpoena because of the need to protect human sources.

“As we also have said previously, information provided by confidential human sources also implicates other longstanding Department confidentiality interest,” Dunham wrote. “The Department’s law enforcement and intelligence authorities enable us to collect significant amounts of information, but only subject to strict constitutional, statutory, and policy limits essential to the rule of law.”

The letter also outlines how the FBI explained to Comer and his staff how FD-1023 forms were used and how agents vet them to ensure their accuracy.

“Investigative reports, such as an FD-1023, include leads and suspicions, not the conclusions of investigators based on fuller context, including information that may not be available to the confidential source,” Dunham wrote. “As we have explained, an FD-1023 form documents information as told to a line FBI agent. Recording the information does not validate the information, establish its credibility, or weigh it against other information known or developed by the FBI.

“Further, the public’s perception of the impartiality of the law enforcement process could be damaged if sensitive material is distributed beyond those necessary in the investigative process,” he added.

An FBI spokesperson said in a statement that the bureau “remains committed to cooperating with the committee in good faith.”

“In a letter to Chairman Comer earlier today, the FBI committed to providing access to information responsive to the Committee’s subpoena in a format and setting that maintains confidentiality and protects important security interests and the integrity of FBI investigations,” the FBI spokesperson said. “Last week, Director Wray scheduled a telephone call for tomorrow to provide additional details of the FBI’s extraordinary accommodation to satisfy the subpoena request. Any discussion of escalation under these circumstances is unnecessary.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the ranking member on the Oversight Committee, asked to be a part of Comer’s call with Wray on Wednesday afternoon, but Comer denied his request.

In a statement to NBC News, an Oversight Committee spokesperson argued Raskin’s inclusion on the call would not be productive. “This call is not another opportunity for Ranking Member Raskin to minimize whistleblower revelations and undermine the authorities of the very institution he represents,” the spokesperson said.

Raskin then asked for his own call with Wray, and he said they spoke later Wednesday.

“Director Wray informed me that the FBI has agreed to accommodate the Committee’s request by making the document sought by Chairman Comer available for in person review," Raskin said in a statement after the call.

“It is increasingly clear that Committee Republicans have always planned to hold Director Wray in contempt of Congress to distract from the obvious fact that they do not have evidence to support their unfounded accusations against President Biden," Raskin said. "This latest political maneuver underscores Chairman Comer’s determination to use the Committee to help former President Trump’s reelection efforts and pander to extreme MAGA Republicans."

Given that the Justice Department enforces any contempt citation, it’s unlikely that the department would pursue the committee’s plans to hold Wray in contempt.

In an interview with “Fox and Friends” on Wednesday morning, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Comer was ready to move forward with a vote to hold Wray in contempt. McCarthy said he personally called Wray and told him he needs to comply with the subpoena.

“If he misses the deadline today, I am prepared to move contempt charges in Congress against him,” McCarthy said. “We have jurisdiction over this. He can send us that document.

“We have the right to look at that, Republicans and Democrats alike in that committee,” he added. “And if he does not follow through with the law, we will move contempt charges against Christopher Wray and the FBI.”