Republican frustrations mount with FBI chief
But other Republicans said they aren’t satisfied with Wray’s progress so far.
“I’m highly concerned about his lack of, really, reform within the FBI and certainly not turning over the type of documents I think he should’ve turned over to Congress a long time ago,” Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said. “So I’m very disappointed in his performance.”
“There are a lot of questions that have to be asked on exactly where in the hierarchy of the FBI the buck stops,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, warned. “So I’ve not formed a formal opinion, but I think there are some questions, based on the answers, that could lead me in that direction.”
Republican senators supported the initial Russia investigations, including special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, but have since soured on the predicates for those investigations, including the surveillance of former Trump adviser Carter Page whose Russia ties drew scrutiny from the intelligence community.
Some of the president’s closest allies want Wray to hold accountable officials whom they believe treated Trump and his presidential campaign unfairly in 2016.
“I’ll reserve judgment on whether he ought to be fired, but I think he needs to do more to get rid of the people who perpetrated this on the president,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).
The Senate overwhelmingly confirmed Wray to lead the agency by a vote of 92 to 5, with all Republicans voting in favor. But many of those same Republicans have grown concerned that Wray is not being transparent with Congress, specifically on how the FBI is implementing reforms in the aftermath of a blistering inspector general report that found widespread abuses of the surveillance courts.
“I think he’s been a little derelict in not being more accommodating to help get to the bottom of what many of us are concerned with,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said. “I think he needs to be more energetic and more responsive. And I think if he’s not, there’s going to be increasing pressure for him to maybe move on down the road. I wouldn’t be calling for it myself. But I think he puts himself in a spot where he’s vulnerable.”
Trump himself is growing increasingly frustrated with Wray, but he has said privately that he does not want to be accused of having a constitutional crisis on his hands, and is letting Attorney General William Barr take the lead on handling Wray, according to a person close to the White House.
Trump has “never liked Wray,” the person said, adding that “keeping his job isn’t in the cards for him.”
In an interview last Friday with conservative commentator Dan Bongino, the president said that what Flynn faced was “a disgrace,” adding: “one way or the other he’s innocent.” Trump did not answer questions about the fate of the FBI director and whether he should be trusted to enact reforms.
Instead, the president praised Barr and said he is looking into the matter.
“I’ll tell you what, you’re going to see what a good job he’s doing,” Trump said. “I don’t get involved, I say Bill, you have to do what’s right. I can get involved in theory — I am the chief law enforcement, but I think it’s better if I don’t.”
The president has rarely voiced his concerns with Wray publicly. But last year, he lashed out at Wray after the FBI director backed up the Justice Department inspector general’s conclusion that the FBI’s Russia probe was appropriately launched. At the time, Senate Republicans raced to defend Wray from the president’s attacks.
Wray’s penchant to sometimes buck the president has rubbed Trump’s allies the wrong way, in particular when it comes to election interference and the origins of the Russia investigation.
“I think his attitude, his very dismissive attitude, when he’s been up before the Judiciary Committee addressing that situation is of deep concern to me,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a member of that panel. “So I would just say that I have a lot of concerns.”
The FBI seemed to acknowledge the pressure Wray is under earlier this week when an agency spokesman released a rare statement seeking to distance Wray from the Flynn controversy, placing the blame on “prior FBI leadership.”
“Director Wray remains firmly committed to addressing the failures under prior FBI leadership while maintaining the foundational principles of rigor, objectivity, accountability, and ownership in fulfilling the Bureau’s mission to protect the American people and defend the Constitution,” the spokesman said.
House Republicans have gone even further than their counterparts in the Senate. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Wray earlier this week in which he suggested that the FBI director was shielding the agency’s alleged misconduct in the Flynn case.
“Even more concerning, we continue to learn these new details from litigation and investigations — not from you,” Jordan wrote. “It is well past time that you show the leadership necessary to bring the FBI past the abuses of the Obama-Biden era.”
Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.