Republicans, at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday with FBI Director Christopher Wray, did not show much eagerness to defend the agency from the attacks President Trump launched against it over the weekend.
More than a few GOP lawmakers were willing to back up Trump’s claim that the bureau is in “tatters,” with one Republican calling Trump’s allegation “understandable” and another saying that Trump was only talking about “senior leadership.”
In his opening statement even House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) seemed to echo Trump’s anti-FBI tweets, which had drawn the condemnation of former top officials at the Justice Department and even some pushback from Wray himself.
“While some will take umbrage with President Trump’s assertion, it does appear to me that, at the very least, the FBI’s reputation as an impartial, non-political agency has been called into question recently,” Goodlatte said. “We cannot afford for the FBI, which has traditionally been dubbed the premier law enforcement agency in the world, to become tainted by politicization or the perception of a lack of even-handedness.”
Wray would go on to push back on Trump’s tweets, while stopping short of criticizing Trump for lobbing the criticisms.
“My experience has been that our reputation is quite good,” Wray said, referencing the FBI’s interactions with other law enforcement entities, the intel community, victims and judges.
Republicans at the hearing focused on the reports from over the weekend that a high-ranking FBI agent — who was also involved in the Hillary Clinton email investigation — had been removed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team after an ongoing inspector general probe revealed that the agent had sent texts expressing“anti-Trump political views,” as a New York Times report put it.
Trump, after the report, went on a Twitter tirade against the agency, which included retweeting a tweet calling for Wray to “clean house.”
After years of Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters – worst in History! But fear not, we will bring it back to greatness.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2017
“Now, as someone who sat on this committee, the Judiciary Committee, that has oversight of the Justice Department and FBI for over 20 years now, such a statement is at least at first shocking,” Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) said, of the “in tatters” tweet. “When you look at a few facts it’s understandable why the President might make such a statement.”
Republicans said that recent years and particularly those under former FBI Director James Comey had caused them to reconsider their longstanding admiration for the agency.
“I spent dozens of town hall meetings as a Republican defending the integrity of your predecessor and disagreeing with some of my constituents about the things that they were saying,” Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) said. “But now it’s become pretty clear to me that my belief in the integrity of your predecessor was misplaced. “
Labrador went on to suggest that there would be a double standard at the FBI if former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn was being investigated for violating the Logan Act, but not President Obama.
Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) referenced his 22 years as a judge and said he “always thought that the FBI had a stellar reputation.”
“In the last few years here in Congress, I don’t have that belief any longer,” Poe said. “And I think your predecessor did a lot to damage the reputation of the FBI. I don’t think that the FBI’s come back around with that stellar reputation. That’s unfortunate.”
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), a former prosecutor, said that he mostly agreed with the praise that Wray had given of the FBI’s rank-and-file earlier in the hearing.
“But unfortunately, the last two years have not been good years for the bureau and they have not been good years for the department,” Gowdy added.
Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) sought to defend Trump’s tweet by saying it was not aimed at the bulk of the agency.
“I never misunderstood Trump’s tweet to be anything other than questioning the integrity of senior leadership at the FBI, not the rank-and-file agents within the FBI,” Ratcliffe said. “And much of that swirls around the senior leadership of former FBI director James Comey.”