Countering strident attacks on his agency from the president who appointed him, FBI Director Chris Wray on Thursday defended the tens of thousands of people who work with him and declared, “There is no finer institution, and no finer people, than the men and women who work there and are its very beating heart.”
Wray provided his first public defense of the nation’s premier law enforcement agency since a weekend of Twitter attacks by President Donald Trump, who called the FBI a biased institution whose reputation is “in Tatters â€” worst in History!” and urged Wray to “clean house.”
The outburst from the president followed a guilty plea from his former national security adviser for lying to the FBI and the revelation that an agent had been removed from a special team investigating the Trump campaign because of text messages seen as potentially anti-Trump.
Wray, who served as a top Justice Department official under President George W Bush and was nominated as FBI director by Trump, faced a wave of Republican criticism over perceived political bias in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of possible Trump campaign ties to Russia during the 2016 presidential election and in the handling a year earlier of an FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server that ended without criminal charges.
Although he did not mention Trump’s criticism directly, Wray rebutted him directly, saying, “My experience has been that our reputation is quite good.”
Wray sought to fend off the attacks on the agency by expressing pride in the agents, analysts and other personnel who he said were working to protect Americans. But he also conceded that agents do make mistakes and said there are processes in place to hold them accountable.
“There is no shortage of opinions out there, but what I can tell you is that the FBI that I see is tens of thousands of agents and analysts and staff working their tails off to keep Americans safe,” Wray said of the agency he has led for just four months.
“The FBI that I see is tens of thousands of brave men and women working as hard as they can to keep people they will never know safe from harm.”
The focus on the Clinton and Trump probes reflected how the FBI in the last two years has found itself entangled in American politics, with investigations focused on the Democratic presidential nominee and the Republican president and his successful campaign.
Those investigations have transformed routine oversight hearings, like the one Thursday, into platforms for tense questions about the political leanings of an agency that prides itself on being removed from partisan consideration.