FBI director to testify as GOP's skepticism reaches fever pitch

FBI Director Christopher Wray is set to appear before one of the House’s most cantankerous committees as GOP members of the Judiciary panel prepare to raise a litany of grievances with the bureau.

Wray’s appearance, part of regularly scheduled oversight, is his first after narrowly avoiding a censure vote from Republicans on the House Oversight Committee.

It also comes shortly after the GOP released transcripts from a whistleblower complaining FBI agents working with the Justice Department failed to thoroughly investigate Hunter Biden, and as the GOP rages over the late Monday indictment of Trump adviser Gal Luft, who accused the Biden family of shady business dealings.

The developments are the latest fuel to long-simmering tensions between the bureau and the GOP, which created a subcommittee to review “weaponization” of the federal government, focusing heavily on the FBI.

The Judiciary committee announced the hearing saying that members “will be demanding answers from FBI Director Wray on the abuse of power in federal agencies.”

In a tweet that used siren emojis as bullet points, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a member of the right-wing Freedom Caucus, said the hearing would raise questions about “the FBI’s recent rogue behavior,” a list that largely focused on investigations that have involved former President Trump.  

Wray, though a Trump appointee, has been at the center of the GOP-FBI grudge match as Republicans increasingly double down on claims the bureau is politicized.

It’s an assertion Wray has strongly rejected.

“I accepted President Trump’s nomination to be FBI director because I believe deeply in the men and women of the agency that I worked with for so many years earlier in my career and I think are the finest professionals in this space on the planet,” Wray said in an April appearance before congressional appropriators.

“Too often in today’s world, people’s standard for whether they think something was fair or objective or independent boils down to whether or not they like the outcome or not whether their side won or lost,” he added later.

After the GOP took over the House, much of its early oversight of the bureau focused on short-lived memos they argue allowed for the targeting of conservatives.

One, from Attorney General Merrick Garland, asked the FBI to coordinate with local school districts as school employees faced a rash of threats driven in part by educators’ COVID-19 response.

Though meant to bring the resources of the bureau to bear in instances where school officials were facing threats of violence, GOP lawmakers have claimed the memo opened the door for labeling parents as domestic terrorists, though no such charges exist under U.S. law.

Another memo, written by an agent in the Richmond, Va., field office, detailed growing overlap between white nationalist groups and “Radical-Traditionalist Catholics,” which it identifies as a small minority within the church. 

Though short-lived, the memo was condemned by Wray and Garland as inappropriate.

“When I first learned of the piece I was aghast, and we took steps immediately to withdraw it and remove it from FBI systems. It does not reflect FBI standards. We do not conduct investigations based on religious affiliation or practices, full stop. We have also now ordered our Inspection Division to take a look at how this happened and try to figure out how we can make sure something like this doesn’t happen again,” Wray said in a March hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

But in recent months, the GOP has intensified its scrutiny of the FBI’s investigations of Trump, in comparison to its work regarding President Biden or his son.

Much of those questions have been raised by the Oversight Committee, which subpoenaed the FBI for a form memorializing an unverified tip to the bureau alleging that President Biden accepted a bribe.

Lawmakers ditched plans to hold Wray in contempt of Congress at the last minute after the FBI agreed to allow the committee to review the document in a secure setting, while agents briefed them about the results of the investigation.

That included detailing how the FBI was unable to corroborate the information, which was relayed by a credible confidential source who heard the allegation second-hand, before ultimately deciding not to escalate it for additional review.

But the Biden saga was refreshed with the release of testimony from an IRS whistleblower who alleged Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney for Delaware David Weiss slow-walked the investigation into Hunter Biden and showed him preferential treatment throughout the five-year process.

Weiss has denied that allegation, as well as a claim that he was unable to secure special counsel status to pursue cases outside his district — something he was assured he would be granted if needed.

Though Wray is outside of the core group involved in this dispute, FBI agents aided in the probe and lawmakers have made clear he will face questions on the matter.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said lawmakers would also grill Wray about the report from special counsel John Durham, which, though it provided little new information, offered a scathing assessment of gaps in FBI protocol that led to a faulty petition to spy on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

“We’ve got Director Wray coming in, we’ve got a lot of questions for him. Does he agree with the Durham report? What about how they’ve treated individuals differently than before?” he said. 

“We got a lot of questions answered with David Weiss and the Attorney General — someone in that process is lying, especially when you see what the IRS whistleblowers have said, so we want to get to the bottom of that as well.” 

Democrats on the committee had a different take on Durham’s report, which acknowledged the initial tip about Trump required action by the FBI. 

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) noted that five Trump campaign associates were convicted of various crimes following the Mueller investigation spurred by the FBI’s initial work investigating the Trump campaign.

“In contrast to multiple Trump associates who were convicted, you brought two cases to a jury trial based on this investigation, and you lost both. So I don’t actually know what we’re doing here, because the author of the Durham report concedes that the FBI had enough information to investigate,” he said when Durham appeared before lawmakers in June.

“And thank goodness the FBI did, because vulnerable Trump associates who committed crimes were held accountable. And the best way to summarize what happened is: Thank you to the brave men and women of the FBI for doing their jobs.” 

The latest twist comes as federal prosecutors in Manhattan filed charges against Luft, who at one point described himself as “patient zero of the Biden family investigation.”

Luft, co-director of the Maryland-based Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, is accused of recruiting and paying an unnamed former high-ranking U.S. government official on behalf of principals based in China in 2016, without registering as a foreign agent as legally required. 

Luft is also accused of violating Iran sanctions by setting up meetings between Iranian officials and a Chinese energy company to discuss oil deals and brokering illicit arms deals to sell weapons to countries including Libya, the United Arab Emirates and Kenya, all without having a license to do so.

But GOP members have largely dismissed the charges as the silencing of a witness central to GOP investigations.

“No one should be surprised here. I don’t trust the DOJ or the FBI. They are trying to silence our witnesses,” Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) said during an appearance on Fox News.

Others have pledged to investigate Luft’s indictment.

“Luft supposedly shared info with the FBI on the Bidens & [Chinese energy company] CEFC,” House Oversight Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

“I will request this record.”

Rep. Jaime Raskin (D-Md.) the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, said Luft may have been using the committee to gain legitimacy.

“I’m afraid that this alleged liar, unregistered foreign agent and arms trafficker was using the Oversight Committee as a dupe and a front and a way to sanitize his activities. He was trying to gain legitimacy by registering whatever his purported whistleblower information was,” Raskin said.

Updated at 8:01 p.m. Mychael Schnell contributed.


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