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FBI Director Wray Discusses Capitol Riot Investigation, Domestic Terrorism Threats


The FBI faces numerous challenges from multiple fronts, and that includes the growing threat from domestic terrorism, which FBI Director Chris Wray has described as metastasizing across the country. Wray is also coordinating the investigation in the U.S. Capitol riots. Now, Wray doesn't often give interviews, but he sat down with NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson.

Carrie, hi.


MARTÍNEZ: Now, you and Wray spoke as law enforcement investigates that series of shootings in Atlanta that left eight people dead, six of them women of Asian descent. That suspect in the shootings is white. Local authorities there have said it's too early to call it a hate crime, but they haven't ruled it out. What did Wray have to say about that investigation?

JOHNSON: The FBI director says this whole incident was heartbreaking and that it hit really close to home for him since he spent a lot of his life in Atlanta. But for now, the FBI has a limited role in the investigation, Wray says.

CHRIS WRAY: So we're actively involved but in a support role. And while the motive remains still under investigation, at the moment, it does not appear that the motive was racially motivated. But I really would defer to the state and local investigation on that for now.

JOHNSON: Atlanta police say nothing is off the table when it comes to hate crimes. But the FBI director says it still doesn't appear to have a racial motivation. And Director Wray also told me the FBI's been warning about this threat from domestic terrorism for years now. Since he took office, the number of investigations into domestic violent extremists has more than doubled to more than 2,000 now.

MARTÍNEZ: And on that, so the FBI is in the middle of one of the biggest investigations in its history. That's the siege of the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Where do - where does that stand right now?

JOHNSON: We've had hundreds of arrests so far. More are on the way. Wray says nearly every one of the bureau's 56 field offices has an open investigation related to January 6. Some new people are likely to be charged, and the FBI director says they're working with state and local partners. So some of those people could face new state charges. The feds may also add on some more serious counts against some defendants. As for the people who did the planning and the funding, Chris Wray says this.

WRAY: And in some of those instances, there have already been conspiracy charges, small - I would call them sort of small cells of individuals working together, coordinating their travel, et cetera. I don't think we've seen some national conspiracy, but we're going to keep digging.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, we all know the FBI wasn't exactly former President Trump's favorite agency. He fired Wray's predecessor. And there were widespread rumors this year that Wray was in danger of losing his job. Carrie, what did the FBI director say about the agency and life after Donald Trump?

JOHNSON: Chris Wray told me he didn't really engage with former President Trump's mean tweets about him and the FBI. But when I asked Wray whether he had a resignation letter hidden somewhere from the Trump era, this is how he responded.

WRAY: I guess all I would say is, I'm a low-key guy, but nobody should mistake my demeanor for what my spine is made out of. And I made a commitment when I was nominated that I was going to do this job one way - by the book. And that's the way I've tried to approach it since Day 1, and that's the way I'm going to continue to approach it.

JOHNSON: Now, Chris Wray has a new boss now, Attorney General Merrick Garland. He says things are going, so far, terrific with Garland.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks a lot.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.