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FBI Director Chris Wray Briefs Congress And Defends His Institution


FBI director Christopher Wray made his first appearance before a House Oversight Committee on Capitol Hill today. Wray took charge of the bureau four months ago, and he's tasked with running the FBI at a time the agency is facing mounting political attacks, including from President Trump. Today Wray responded. NPR's Ryan Lucas has more.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Christopher Wray is a serious understated guy with a reputation for not wanting to make headlines. But with the president and many lawmakers questioning the FBI's integrity, Wray offered up a firm defense of the bureau.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY: The FBI that I see is people - decent people committed to the highest principles of integrity and professionalism and respect.

LUCAS: The FBI's job is not easy at any time, he said. But the bureau remains focused on the work at hand.


WRAY: We are determined to be the very best at protecting the American people and upholding the rule of law. And I for one could not be more proud to be part of it.

LUCAS: Still, Wray's defense of the FBI comes at a rocky time. The president has renewed his public attack on the FBI, declaring on Twitter that its reputation is, quote, "in tatters, worst in history." Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee agreed with that assessment Thursday. Here's the panel's Republican chairman, Bob Goodlatte.


BOB GOODLATTE: While some will take umbrage with President Trump's assertion, it does appear to me that at the very least, the FBI's reputation as an impartial, nonpolitical agency has been called into question recently.

LUCAS: Republicans focused much of their questioning on some old business - Hillary Clinton's private email server - and some new business - the impartiality of the special counsel's ongoing Russia investigation. The Russia questions revolved around recent reports that a senior FBI agent was removed from the special counsel's probe after sending anti-Trump views in personal text messages. That same agent, Republicans noted, also played a prominent role in the Clinton investigation. Republicans said that raises questions about potential political bias in both of those probes. Again, Goodlatte...


GOODLATTE: It is absolutely unacceptable for FBI employees to permit their own political predilections to contaminate any investigation. Even the appearance of impropriety will devastate the FBI's reputation.

LUCAS: Wray deflected that question, saying the Justice Department's inspector general is already looking into those matters. And he said those findings will determine what action, if any, is necessary. Democrats pressed Wray to maintain the FBI's independence from political pressure emanating from the White House. Here's the committee's top Democrat, Jerrold Nadler.


JERROLD NADLER: In this moment, Director Wray, your responsibility is not only to defend the bureau but to push back against the president when he is clearly wrong both on the facts and as a matter of principle.

LUCAS: About halfway into the five-hour hearing, Wray took a step back and appeared almost philosophical. There are always going to be some people, he said, who don't like how the FBI handles an investigation.


WRAY: And our safe space is to follow the rules, follow the guidelines, follow the Constitution, follow the facts objectively and independently and then let the critics go where they may 'cause there will always be lots of critics of everything we do.

LUCAS: Ryan Lucas, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.