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Wray: Report on Russia probe found "unacceptable" problems

FBI Director Christopher Wray listens during an interview with The Associated Press, Monday, Dec. 9, 2019, in Washington. Wray says the problems found by the Justice Department watchdog examining the origins of the Russia probe are “unacceptable." (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON — A Justice Department inspector general report on the early days of the Russia investigation identified problems that are “unacceptable and unrepresentative of who we are as an institution,” FBI Director Chris Wray said Monday in detailing changes the bureau plans to make in response.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Wray said the FBI had co-operated fully with the inspector general — which concluded in its report that the investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia was legitimate but also cited serious flaws — and accepted all its recommendations.

Wray said the FBI would make changes to how it handles confidential informants, how it applies for warrants from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, how it conducts briefings on foreign influence for presidential nominees and how it structures sensitive investigations like the 2016 Russia probe. He said he has also reinstated ethics training.

“I am very committed to the FBI being agile in its tackling of foreign threats,” Wray said. “But I believe you can be agile and still scrupulously follow our rules, policies and processes.”

Wray was not FBI director when the Russia investigation began and has so far avoided commenting in depth on the probe, one of the most politically sensitive inquiries in bureau history and one that President Donald Trump has repeatedly denounced as a “witch hunt.” Wray’s comments Monday underscore the balancing act of his job as he tries to embrace criticism of the Russia probe that he sees as legitimate while limiting public judgment of decisions made by his predecessors.

He said that though it was important to not lose sight of the fact that Inspector General Michael Horowitz found the investigation justified and did not find it to be tainted by political bias, “The American people rightly expect that the FBI, when it acts to protect the country, is going to do it right — each time, every time.

“And,” he added, “urgency is not an excuse for not following our procedures.”

The report found that the FBI was justified in opening its investigation in the summer of 2016 into whether the Trump campaign was co-ordinating with Russia to tip the election in the president’s favour. But it also identified “serious performance failures” up the bureau’s chain of command, including 17 “significant inaccuracies or omissions” in applications for a warrant from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor the communications of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and subsequent warrant renewals.

The errors, the watchdog said, resulted in “applications that made it appear that the information supporting probable cause was stronger than was actually the case.”

Wray declined to say if there was one problem or criticism that he found most troubling, but noted, “As a general matter, there are a number of things in the report that in my view are unacceptable and unrepresentative of who we are as an institution.”

“This is a serious report,” he added, “and we take it serious.”


Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP

Eric Tucker, The Associated Press

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