WASHINGTON — FBI Director Chris Wray avoided a direct answer Wednesday when asked if President Donald Trump had asked him for investigations into political opponents, saying only that no one had requested probes based on anything other than “the facts, the law and proper predication.”
Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, Wray was asked whether Trump, Attorney General William Barr or anyone else had requested an investigation into Trump Democratic rival Joe Biden or son Hunter Biden, or into any members of Congress.
Trump’s request that Ukraine conduct investigations into the Bidens is at the centre of the impeachment trial that nears resolution with an expected acquittal by the Senate Wednesday afternoon.
The question was posed by Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the committee chairman and one of seven House Democratic managers of the impeachment case. He asked whether Trump might have requested FBI investigations into the Bidens, lawmakers or former national security adviser John Bolton — who is due out with a book next month said to undercut a key Trump defence — as possible payback for impeachment proceedings.
Wray initially answered: “I have assured the Congress, and I can assure the Congress today, that the FBI will only open investigations based on the facts, and the law and proper predication.”
Nadler then said that he assumed it was correct that neither Trump nor Barr nor other administration officials had asked for improper political investigations. Wray answered: “No one has asked me to open an investigation based on anything other than facts, the law and proper predication.”
Trump has sought, without evidence, to implicate the Bidens in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father, as vice-president, was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Ukraine. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden.
Wray’s appearance was his first since a Justice Department inspector general report that sharply criticized the FBI’s surveillance of former Trump campaign aide national security Carter Page. The errors produced rare bipartisan calls for changes to the federal government’s surveillance powers.
The watchdog report identified what it said were significant errors in applications to eavesdrop on Page, including omitting critical information that cut against the FBI’s original premise that Page was a Russian agent — something he repeatedly denied. The report also alleged that an FBI lawyer had doctored an email used in connection with one of the applications.
After the report was issued, Wray told The Associated Press that the mistakes were “unacceptable and unrepresentative of who we are as an institution.”
The then-chief judge of the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which authorizes wiretapping of subjects on American soil in espionage, terrorism and other national security investigations, responded to the report with an extraordinary public rebuke of the FBI and demanded that the bureau report back on what it was doing to fix the problems.
The FBI did that last month, laying out a series of changes designed to ensure warrant applications are more closely scrutinized before being submitted for a judge’s approval and that they contain accurate information about the reliability and potential bias of sources whom agents rely on.
Wray told lawmakers that though he was not at the FBI at the time the errors were made, “I’m here now.”
He bristled at the suggestion from some Republican lawmakers that he did not take the criticism from the report seriously enough.
“I’ve been a prosecutor. I’ve been a defence attorney, I’ve been an assistant attorney general, I’ve been an FBI director,” Wray said. “To me, candour to the court is sacrosanct, and I don’t think there’s anybody in the FBI who’s I belaboring under the misimpression that I think it’s OK to mislead the court.”
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Eric Tucker, The Associated Press