WASHINGTON — Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee questioned FBI Director Chris Wray about the alleged «weaponization» of law enforcement agencies against former President Donald Trump and conservatives, accusing them of failing to aggressively pursue to the Bidens.
Democrats on the panel pressed Wray about Trump’s involvement in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and the former president’s mishandling of classified documents for which he has been indicted.
With attention fast turning to the critical 2024 election, lawmakers from both parties on Wednesday tried to use Wray’s high-profile appearance on Capitol Hill to score political points and defeat the opposing party.
Chairman of the Judiciary Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a leading Trump supporter, filed a litany of complaints against Wray, accusing the FBI of downplaying the Hunter Biden laptop story ahead of the 2020 election, supporting the suppressing 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 on a presidential campaign or the break-in of a former president’s house,” said Jordan, who also heads the new Republican Party Weapons subcommittee. “Perhaps what is scarier is what happens if you go forward and tell Congress that you are a whistleblower. Come tell Congress what’s going on? Be aware. You will receive reprisals against you.”
Throughout the hearing, Wray, who was appointed by Trump in August 2017, defended the work of his employees. In an opening statement, he touted the FBI’s progress in tackling violent crime, protecting the US from foreign threats, seizing dangerous drugs like fentanyl and investigating the Chinese government.
In a heated exchange with Wray, conservative Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, read to the director an alleged 2017 text message from Hunter Biden to a Chinese businessman in which the younger Biden claimed he was sitting with his father, which President Biden has denied. A Hunter Biden lawyer has said the text is false.
Gaetz called it “extortion” of the businessman and later accused Wray of being “deeply uncurious” about the Hunter Biden text.
“Are you protecting the Bidens?” Gaetz asked the director.
“Absolutely not,” Wray replied.
Gaetz later criticized the FBI for abusing FISA warrants, accusing agency officials of «using the FISA process as their creepy personal spy machine.»
«People trust the FBI more when J. Edgar Hoover ran the place than when you do,» Gaetz told Wray, «and the reason is you don’t give straight answers.»
Democrats used their time with Wray to train their fire on Trump. New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the panel, asked Wray to detail how exactly the FBI executed a search warrant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago golf course to recover classified documents and how far he went. the government to obtain the material. before taking that serious step.
“President Trump had many, many opportunities to voluntarily comply with the requests of the FBI and the Department of Justice. Instead, he made the decision to retain these highly classified national security and defense documents,” Nadler said.
“I find myself in the strange position of agreeing with former Attorney General Bill Barr’s statement that Trump brought it on himself,” Nadler continued. “And I would add that it is absurd that House Republicans are attacking the FBI and the Department of Justice for doing their job and ensuring that no person is above the law.”
“When in doubt, President Jordan investigates investigators,” Nadler said of his Republican counterpart.
The oversight hearing comes as special counsel Jack Smith pursues an indictment against Trump for his alleged mishandling of classified documents and an investigation of the former president into his role in the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol and efforts to quash the 2020 election results.
Wray’s appearance also comes after House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., threatened to start proceedings to charge the FBI director with contempt of Congress.
Those proceedings did not move forward after the FBI agreed to let Republicans see a document that allegedly outlined an unverified allegation that Biden was involved in a bribery scheme while vice president involving a foreign national. The FBI and a federal prosecutor reviewed the allegation when it was made in 2020, NBC News previously reported. The bribery allegation was not substantiated, a senior law enforcement official said recently.
In his opening statement, Wray said it was important to him to highlight the work of the FBI that gets less attention. “I want to talk about the sheer breadth and impact of the work that the 38,000 FBI employees are doing, every day because the work that the men and women of the FBI do to protect the American people goes far beyond one or two investigations that they seem to grab all the headlines,” he said.
Last year, the FBI arrested more than 20,000 violent criminals and child predators, Wray told lawmakers, «an average of nearly 60 bad guys taken off the streets a day, every day.»
Wray said the FBI is conducting more than 300 investigations into drug cartel leadership and has already «seized hundreds of kilograms of fentanyl this year alone.» The office, he said, also has thousands of active investigations into efforts by the Chinese government to «steal our most precious secrets, rob our companies of their ideas and innovation, and stifle free speech right here in America.»
“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,” she said.
In a longer prepared statement presented to the committee outlining the FBI’s top priorities, Wray stressed the «urgent legislative matter» of renewing provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that will expire at the end of the year, including a statute, Section 702. , which allows the federal government to conduct warrantless surveillance of aliens outside the US, even if they communicate with Americans.
Wray warned: «The loss of this vital provision, or its reauthorization in a restricted form, would create profound risks.» It could “mean substantially impairing, or in some cases eliminating entirely, our ability to find and disrupt many of the most serious security threats,” he said.
Jordan has criticized the FBI and Wray on numerous issues, including a federal investigation into Hunter Biden, who is expected to plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges for failing to pay taxes. The president’s son also faces a gun possession charge for another felony that will likely be dismissed if he meets certain conditions.
Earlier this year, Jordan subpoenaed Wray for documents after the GOP chairman said a withdrawn memo had focused on the FBI exploring possible domestic violent extremism in Catholic churches. He also subpoenaed Wray and other members of the Biden administration to obtain documents related to local school board meetings amid claims that FBI divisions had focused on potential threats at such meetings.