FBI Director Wray comes under renewed Trump scrutiny after Justice Department drops Flynn's case
Posted May 8, 2020 4:16 p.m. EDT
Updated May 8, 2020 4:48 p.m. EDT
CNN — Attorney General William Barr's drive in recent weeks to upend the prosecution of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn has had the unintended effect of inflicting collateral damage on FBI Director Christopher Wray, who is now taking fire from President Donald Trump.
Barr on Thursday moved to drop charges against Flynn, who has twice pleaded guilty before two judges to lying to the FBI, citing findings of an internal review that concluded the case was without merit. Wray wasn't at the FBI when the Flynn case began. But that hasn't mattered much to critics who believe he hasn't done enough to make changes at the bureau.
The President appointed Wray in 2017 after firing James Comey. Since then, Wray, as is his style, has largely kept a lower profile than his predecessor, and he has sought to distance himself and the bureau from former leaders who oversaw the start of the 2016 investigation into Russian election interference and ties to the Trump campaign.
The FBI has said that under Wray, the bureau has cooperated with multiple investigations into the FBI's handling of the Russia probe that Trump remains agitated over. Wray also enjoys a good relationship with Barr, who has privately conveyed that support to Trump, according to an administration official.
But a review of the Flynn case by US Attorney Jeffrey Jensen has helped reignite criticism from the President and his supporters, not only of the bureau but also of Wray.
The Justice Department in recent weeks provided to Flynn's attorneys a cache of documents that figured prominently in conservative media stories alleging that FBI corruption was at work in the investigation of Trump's former national security adviser. That prompted a tide of calls for Wray's firing from prominent Fox News hosts, whom the President is known to watch.
On Friday, Trump made clear his displeasure with Wray in a call to the Fox News morning show.
"Well, a lot of things are going to be told in the next couple of weeks and let's see what happens," Trump said when asked about Wray. "He was appointed by (former Deputy Attorney General) Rod Rosenstein."
The President continued a rambling critique of Wray, not citing specifics of what the FBI director has done wrong, saying: "Let's see what happens with him. Look, the jury's still out with regard to that, but it would have been a lot easier if he came out rather than skirting and going through 19 different ways except through the FBI."
The conservative criticism of Wray over the Flynn case reached such a point in recent days that the FBI issued an unusual statement defending the director.
"Under Director Wray's leadership, the FBI has fully cooperated and been transparent with the review being conducted by U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen, just as it has been with U.S. Attorney John Durham and was with Inspector General Michael Horowitz. With regard to certain documents in the Michael Flynn matter from the 2016-2017 time period that are now the subject of reporting by the press, the FBI previously produced those materials to the Inspector General and U.S. Attorney Durham," the FBI said.
"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 FBI added.
Barr has tried to come to Wray's rescue, providing a rebuttal at several points in recent months to other conservative allies of the President who have increased their criticism of the FBI director.
In interviews, Barr has been quick to point out that Wray has cooperated with multiple examinations ordered by Barr into the FBI's handling of sensitive matters, including the probes being run by Durham and Jensen that are often wielded for political points by Trump.
"He's been a great partner to me in our effort to restore the American people's confidence in both the Department of Justice and the FBI," Barr told CBS News Thursday.
Barr also tried Thursday to shield Wray from attacks that the FBI had been withholding the newly disclosed documents, including internal emails and meeting notes, that underpinned the Justice Department's reversal in the Flynn case.
"There are a lot of cases in the Department of Justice and I don't consider it the director's responsibility to make sure that all the documents are produced in each case," Barr said.
Wray has sought to distance himself from the controversy around Comey, his predecessor, and in his early months atop the bureau, replaced senior executives that had comprised Comey's leadership team.
He also moved swiftly to condemn and implement corrective steps after the Justice Department's inspector general revealed last year that FBI officials, under Comey, had made a series of mistakes and failures as they sought to surveil a member of Trump's campaign as part of the Russia investigation.
"I am not somebody — as is quite clear by now to lots of people — who expresses himself with hyperbole and loud rhetoric. I am somebody who reflects his views through action," Wray testified in February before a House panel.