Christopher Wray, the low-key FBI director who has frequently found himself in the political limelight, defended his agency’s handling of politically sensitive matters like the Jan. 6 investigation during a speech at the Commerce Club Tuesday evening.
In a ballroom not far from the white-shoe law firm and U.S. attorney’s office where he once worked, Wray declined to comment directly on recent reporting from The Washington Post that suggested the FBI and federal prosecutors waited for more than a year before investigating the actions of former President Donald Trump and his close allies regarding the riot at the U.S. Capitol. The news outlet reported that institutional caution, a fear of appearing partisan and disagreements over the amount of evidence needed all contributed to the delay.
Wray said the FBI has “committed really unprecedented resources to investigating both the crimes that were committed on and in connection with Jan. 6.”
He estimated that 55 of the bureau’s 56 field offices have been involved in the probe, which has so far led to roughly 1,000 arrests.
“I think the way we have approached all those investigations is the way I expect us to approach any significant investigation, which is to dot every I and cross every T,” Wray said during the event, which was co-hosted by The Atlanta Press Club. “That’s what I expect from our people and that’s what the American people expect from the FBI.”
Wray, who was appointed after Trump forced out James Comey in 2017, has resisted efforts to make his agency look partisan. That’s come as Republicans, including Trump and prominent members of the House GOP, have claimed the FBI has targeted conservatives.
U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, recently introduced articles of impeachment, arguing the bureau has turned the FBI into President Joe Biden’s “personal police force.” Meanwhile, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee only recently abandoned a contempt vote against Wray following a scuffle over access to FBI documents that contained unsubstantiated allegations against Biden and his family that predated his presidency.
Wray said Tuesday that his approach to dealing with Congress is “to try to be as transparent and cooperative as I responsively can.”
“I have enormous respect for congressional oversight, and I think that’s an important part of our responsibilities as an agency who has vast powers,” he said. But Wray added that he has a duty to “protect confidential human sources” and “respect grand jury secrecy.”
“There are a host of other obligations that the FBI director and the FBI as an institution also have, and so the challenge is to try and find a way to do both,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been doing and that’s what I expect to continue doing.”
Wray focused his speech Tuesday on the FBI’s work with local law enforcement to combat violent crime and potential threats posed by artificial intelligence. He said the Chinese government represents “the defining threat of this era” in terms of the U.S.’s economic and national security interests.
Wray did not discuss the FBI’s role searching Trump’s club at Mar-a-Lago for classified government documents, which paved the way for the former president’s historic indictment earlier this month. Ditto for the FBI’s work in helping secure downtown Atlanta should Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis indict Trump on state charges, which she has heavily suggested she will do in August.
Wray did defend the bureau’s response to a recent report by John Durham, the special counsel who investigated the FBI’s conduct in its probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Durham concluded the agency relied on too much unconfirmed intelligence as it investigated possible criminal collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
Wray said the FBI cooperated with Durham’s probe, assigned him agents to help and made more than 50 corrective actions as a result of the special counsel’s findings.
Despite today’s charged political environment, Wray said he sees promising signs for the bureau’s future, including strengthened relationships with local law enforcement and historically high levels of recruitment in recent years.
“The fact that these people, and it’s in every state in the country, are manifesting their views of the FBI by wanting to sign up and devote their lives, in some cases literally, to working with us I think speaks pretty darn loudly about our institution,” he said.
Wray, 56, started his legal career at King & Spalding in Atlanta 1993. He served as an assistant U.S. Attorney in Atlanta before moving to the Justice Department during the George W. Bush administration. There, he coordinated anti-terrorism and counterespionage efforts before being confirmed to run the department’s criminal division.