FBI Director Christopher Wray testified Thursday before the House Oversight Committee for the first time since he was confirmed to the post in August.
Wray appeared just days after President Donald Trump tweeted that the FBI’s reputation was in “tatters” and the “worst in history.” Wray had to face questions about those tweets as well as the bureau’s investigation into Hillary Clinton and the ongoing special counsel investigation into Russian interference in last year’s election.
Here’s what Wray had to tell lawmakers Thursday:
On that tweet: Wray was asked about Trump’s tweet right off the bat. Rep. Jerrod Nadler, D-New York, asked him to respond to it, and Wray did so with force. He said that while there may be “no shortage of opinions out there” on the bureau, “the FBI that I see is people, decent people, committed to the highest principles of dignity and professionalism and respect.”
He added that the FBI staff, just like any other people, may make mistakes, but that there are layers of independent oversight such as the Inspector General’s Office to ensure the bureau’s integrity.
On bias at the FBI: Several Republican lawmakers asked Wray about Peter Strzok, an FBI agent who was recently removed from Robert Mueller’s special counsel team for sending text messages that appeared to show an anti-Trump bias. Strzok also led the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Wray repeatedly declined to answer questions about Strzok and the Clinton investigation, citing an inspector general investigation into that matter.
When Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, asked how Wray intended to root out bias at the bureau, he said he first and foremost respects outside investigations of FBI conduct. Wray said he preferred to be “an ask-questions-first-and-act-later kind of guy.”
He said he would evaluate findings by the IG when he gets them, but that in the meantime, he said he emphasizes “in every audience [he] can inside the bureau” about the importance of making decisions based only on the rule of law.
On the Inspector General investigation: Despite his refusal to discuss the issue, Wray did give some insight into how the bureau may handle the results of the IG’s investigation. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, asked where the investigation could go, and if it could overturn the decision not to charge Clinton. Wray said the IG is not “second-guessing” Comey’s decision, but investigating whether decisions were made based on improper considerations.
However, he said that should the IG find that there was impropriety, the FBI would need to “assess what might need to be done to un-ring that bell.”
On Comey’s statement: Several lawmakers also pressed Wray on reports that Comey drafted his July statement about not charging Clinton months before he gave it. Wray told Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Florida, that while he believed any final decisions should wait until the last witness is interviewed, he also knows that “as an investigation develops you start forming views about what you’re finding, all subject to revision and in some cases withdrawal, until you’re done.”
Later, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, pushed Wray about Comey, and he appeared to become frustrated for the first time in the hearing.
“Your concerns, which I completely sympathize with and understand, go to the question of whether or not proper processes, investigative and otherwise, were followed. And I think the best way to get to the bottom of that is not to bypass proper investigative processes now,” he said.
On the Dossier: Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, asked Wray whether the so-called Steele Dossier, an unverified report that contained salacious claims about Trump, was used in an FBI application for a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant.
When Wray said he would not discuss FISA applications in the hearing, Jordan continued to press him, saying there was nothing that should stop Wray from turning over the FISA application to the committee. But Wray stood his ground.
“When I sign FISA applications, they are all covered with a classified information cover so that’s part of why I’m not discussing it here,” he said.