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AT THIS HOUR
Continuation of FBI Director Confirmation Hearing. Aired 11- 11:30a ET
Aired July 12, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: -- as the top cop in the land.
Are you familiar with the article from Politico, January the 11th, 2017, titled "Ukrainian Efforts to Sabotage Trump Backfire?"
WRAY: I am not.
GRAHAM: I'm going to read a little portion of this.
"Donald Trump wasn't the only presidential candidate whose campaign was boosted by officials of a former Soviet Bloc country. Ukrainian officials tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office.
"They also disseminated documents implicating a top Trump aide in corruption, and suggested they were investigating the matter, only to back away after the election. And they helped Clinton's allies research damaging information on Trump and his advisers, a Politico investigation found.
"A Ukrainian-American operative who was consulting for the DNC met with top officials in the Ukrainian embassy in Washington in an effort to expose ties between Trump campaign aide Paul Manafort and Russia, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation."
Have you ever heard of those allegations before?
WRAY: I have not, Senator.
GRAHAM: I have no idea if they're true. But would you agree with me, if they are true, that it's wrong for the Ukraine to be involved in our elections?
WRAY: Yes, Senator. I take any...
GRAHAM: I got you. That's a good answer.
GRAHAM: Will you look into this?
WRAY: I'd be happy to dig into it... GRAHAM: Thank you. All right.
Are you familiar with the e-mail problems we've had with Donald Jr. -- Donald Trump Jr. in the last few days?
WRAY: I have not, Senator. I've heard that there is an issue, but I've spent the last few days meeting...
GRAHAM: I'm going to read something...
WRAY: ... with your colleagues...
GRAHAM: All right.
WRAY: ... so I missed that.
GRAHAM: This is an e-mail sent June 3, 2016, by Rob Goldstone -- who's apparently someone connected to the Miss Universe Pageant, and has ties to Russian entertainment -- to Donald Jr.
"Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting. The crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father, Aras, this morning, and their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary in her dealings with Russia, and would be very useful to your father.
"This is obviously very high-level and sensitive information, but as part of Russia and his government support for Mr. Trump -- helped along by Aras and Emin. What do you think is the best way to handle this information? And would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?
"I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultrasensitive, so wanted to send to you first."
Seventeen minutes later, Donald Trump Jr. replied. "Thanks, Rob. I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it's what you say I love it, especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week when I'm back?"
Should Donald Trump Jr. have taken that meeting?
WRAY: Well, Senator, I don't -- I'm hearing for the first time your description of it, so I'm not really in a position to speak to it.
I gather that Special Counsel Mueller...
GRAHAM: Well, let me ask you this. If I got a call from somebody saying, "The Russian government wants to help Lindsey Graham get reelected, they've got dirt on Lindsey Graham's opponent," should I take that meeting?
WRAY: Well, Senator, I would think you'd want to consult with some good legal advisers before you did that.
GRAHAM: So, the answer is, should I call the FBI?
WRAY: I think it would be wise to let the FBI...
GRAHAM: You're going to be the director of the FBI, pal. So here's what I want you to tell every politician: If you get a call from somebody suggesting that a foreign government wants to help you by disparaging your opponent, tell us all to call the FBI.
WRAY: To the members of this committee, any threat or effort to interfere with our elections from any nation-state or any non-state actor is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know.
GRAHAM: All right. So, I'll take it that we should call you, and that's a great answer.
Now, this is what Don Jr. said Saturday before the e-mail came out. If I can find it here. This is his statement about what I just read to you.
"It was a short introductory meeting, and I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago, and was since ended by the Russian government. But it is not a campaign issue at that time, and there was no follow-up.
"I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told by the name" -- "was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand."
Do you think that's a fair summary of the contact between Donald Trump Jr. and this Rob Goldstone?
WRAY: Senator, I don't know what would be a fair summary. I don't know...
GRAHAM: Would you agree with me this is very misleading?
WRAY: Senator, again, I don't have the full context to be able to speak to...
GRAHAM: I want you to look at it and get back with the committee and find out if that was misleading.
Is Russia our friend or our enemy?
WRAY: Senator, I -- I think Russia is a foreign nation that we have to deal with very warily.
GRAHAM: Do you think they're an adversary of the United States?
WRAY: In some situations, yes.
GRAHAM: Do you think in the situation of trying to compromise our election that's an adversarial move on their part?
GRAHAM: Do you believe the Russians did it when it came to the hacking into the DNC and Podesta's e-mails? Do you believe the conclusions?
WRAY: Well, Senator, as I said to your colleague...
GRAHAM: Do you have any reason to...
WRAY: I have no reason to doubt the conclusions of the intelligence community.
GRAHAM: Would that make you a good candidate to be an enemy of the United States?
WRAY: I think an effort to interfere with our elections is an adversarial act, as you said before.
GRAHAM: Comey. Did you see the press conference he gave about the Hillary Clinton investigation in July of last year?
WRAY: Not live, but yes.
GRAHAM: Would you have done that?
WRAY: Well, Senator, there is an inspector general investigation into Director Comey's conduct, so...
GRAHAM: I'm not talking about the investigation. I'm asking about you. Would you have done that?
WRAY: I can tell you that in my experience as a prosecutor and as head of the Criminal Division, I understand there to be department policies that govern public comments about uncharged individuals. And I think those policies are there for a reason.
WRAY: And I would follow those policies.
GRAHAM: OK. He talked about somebody that was never charged in a disparaging fashion. Do you agree with that?
WRAY: That's the way I understood his comments.
GRAHAM: Do you also agree that he took over the prosecutor's job by saying, "There's no case here"?
WRAY: Well, Senator, again, there's an inspector general investigation into his conduct.
GRAHAM: Would you -- you would not have done either one of those is what you're telling this committee. At least I hope that's what you're telling this committee.
WRAY: I can't imagine a situation where...
GRAHAM: Fair enough.
WRAY: ... as FBI director I would be giving a press conference on an uncharged individual, much less talk...
GRAHAM: Thank you.
WRAY: ... in detail about it.
GRAHAM: You say that Mueller's a good guy, right?
WRAY: That's been my experience, yes.
GRAHAM: And you will do anything necessary to protect him from being interfered with when it comes to doing his job.
WRAY: Absolutely. I think he's a...
GRAHAM: Do you believe...
WRAY: ... stand-up guy.
GRAHAM: ... that -- in light of the Don Jr. e-mail, and other allegations, that this whole thing about Trump campaign and Russia's a witch hunt? Is that a fair description of what we're all dealing with in America?
WRAY: Well, Senator, I can't speak to the basis for those comments. I can tell you that my experience with Director Mueller...
GRAHAM: I'm asking you, as the future FBI director, do you consider this endeavor a witch hunt?
WRAY: I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt.
GRAHAM: Thank you.
Can the president fire Director Mueller? Does he have the authority in the law to fire him?
WRAY: I don't know the law on that.
GRAHAM: Can you get back to us and answer that question?
WRAY: I'd be happy to take a look at it.
Do you realize that you're stepping into the role of the director at the FBI at one of the most contentious times in the history of American politics?
WRAY: Well, as Senator Nunn said, there have been a lot of contentious times in American politics. But I think this one certainly ranks up there.
GRAHAM: Do you understand the challenge that lies ahead for you, because institutions in the eyes of the American people are suffering, and the last thing we want to happen is for the FBI to fall out of favor with the American people?
WRAY: Senator, I think as I said to you in our meeting, I fully understand that this is not a job for the faint of heart. And I can assure this committee I am not faint of heart.
GRAHAM: And I think in that committee (sic) I told you that I wanted to be an FBI agent, and it's a credit to the FBI they never let me become one.
That -- I never actually applied. It probably would've been a waste of my time.
But I told you that I admire the men and women of the FBI because they're unsung heroes who work morning, noon and night against terrorism, child pornography. You name it, they're out there doing it.
And you're their voice. This is a big honor. Do you agree with that?
WRAY: Yes, Senator.
In fact, the reason I'm doing this is for those people.
During the time when my name was first released to the media, but before I was asked to take on the position, I got calls from all these agents that I used to work with, prosecutors that I used to work with, for and against, from different administrations. And the outpouring of support an encouragement that I got was both humbling and gratifying. And I want to do this for those people, and for the victims past and hopefully to prevent victims in the future.
GRAHAM: From my point of view, you're the right guy at the right time. Good luck.
GRASSLEY: Senator Durbin?
DURBIN: Thanks, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you very much, Mr. Wray, and to your family and friends who have joined you here today. You said a few words about Mr. Comey, who you have extensive experience working with, in the Department of Justice. I believe you've characterized him as a terrific lawyer, public servant and colleague. So I'd like to ask you, we're in an unusual moment in American history, where Mr. Comey was fired from his job and characterized by the president of the United States as a nut job, and was fired for the stated reason by the president because, the Russian investigation was underway, and the president believed it was a cloud on his presidency.
Mr. Comey told us a little bit about his direct dealings with the president of the United States. Two things really stood out, which, I think, may be fairly unique in the history of the United States. He said, on one hand that, he, having been caught alone in the Oval Office with the president of the United States, spoke to the attorney general and said, I don't want that to happen again. I want a witness when I'm meeting with the president of the United States. That is an extraordinary statement by the head of the FBI.
If you were asked to meet privately, with no one else, with the president of the United States, as director of the FBI, what would be your approach?
WRAY: My first step would be to call Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. There's a policy that applies to contacts between the White House and the department. It goes in both directions. In particular, it goes to any contact between -- on a -- with respect to a particular case. There obviously are situations where the FBI director needs to be able to communicate with the president on national security matters, for example.
But in my experience, it would be very unusual for there to be any kind of one-on-one meeting between the FBI -- any FBI director and any president.
DURBIN: Unusual, but it happened. And it happened to Mr. Comey, and he decided that he was uncomfortable being in the Oval Office alone with the president. So as unusual as it may be, would you meet in the Oval Office, with the president, with no one else present?
WRAY: I think it would depend on the circumstances, Senator. I think it would be highly unlikely, but I think there could -- I could imagine a situation where there'd be some national security matter where that might call for it. But I would, again, my preference and my presumption would be, that there should be people from the department through the -- walking -- working through the office of the deputy attorney general so that it's not a one-on-one meeting.
I think the relationship between any FBI director and any president needs to be a professional one, not a social one. And there certainly shouldn't be any discussion between -- one-on-one discussions -- between the FBI director and any president about particular -- how to conduct particular investigations or cases.
DURBIN: Now, the second thing which I think is extraordinary, and I don't know if there's any precedent in the history of the United States since the creation of the FBI was Mr. Comey's decision, after meeting with the president and discussions with the president, to create a contemporaneous written record. You know as an attorney with the Department of Justice that has evidentiary value. Tell me your reaction. Do you feel bound, or at least, do you feel the recommendation from Comey's action to create contemporary written records of your conversations with the president, if you become director of the FBI?
WRAY: Well, Senator, I think at a minimum, I would take the approach that I always do to talking to people, which is, to try to listen very carefully to what I'm hearing in the conversation. And there could be times where I would think that the appropriate next step is for me to memorialize that. But I would evaluate that on a case-by-case basis. DURBIN: There's much -- you can correct me, because I think you have much more experience in this area. Your memory of a conversation and a written contemporaneous report carry different evidentiary value and weight in a courtroom, is that not true?
WRAY: That's absolutely true.
DURBIN: So, I don't want to put words in your mouth, but what you're saying is under some circumstances, conversations with the president of the United States, you feel, should be memorialized in a contemporaneous written report.
WRAY: Certainly, there would be situations where it would be appropriate for me to memorialize a conversation, just like there would be with -- with other people, if they were important conversations, and I thought it made sense.
DURBIN: I'm not going to let you off that easy.
WRAY: OK. DURBIN: Of course. That is your responsibility as director, but we're dealing with an extraordinary situation here, where a man you respected, was fired, called a nut job, and the president said to Russian visitors, we're putting an end to this investigation. This is not an ordinary course of business for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This is the highest elected official in the United States of America trying to stop an investigation by putting Jim Comey out of business. I think it's a little different than the routine requirements of the office. Do you?
WRAY: Well, certainly, I would distinguish, Senator, if this is what you're driving at, between a sort of routine conversation, and a -- and a very significant, important conversation. And ones that fall in the latter category, I would think it would behoove me to make sure there's an appropriate record of that.
DURBIN: We've talked a lot about Russia in this hearing, and the threat to the United States. You've read the unclassified version of their attempt to have a cyberattack on the United States' election campaign. Now we have a statement from the president of the United States suggesting, quote, "Putin and I discussed forming an impenetrable cybersecurity unit, so that election hacking and many other negative things will be guarded and safe." So now, we've all started with the premise that Russia was involved in trying to change our election. We all understand that Russia has been a bad actor around the world in many places. And now we have the president saying, we're going to get together with them on the issue of cybersecurity.
So if it is proposed to you by the administration to create this cybersecurity unit, and to share information with the Russians about the United States' capabilities and vulnerabilities when it comes to cybersecurity, what is your reaction?
WRAY: Well, my reaction, Senator, is that I need to learn a lot more about the current state of our cybersecurity defenses and our threats, in talking to the career intelligence community professionals, to be able to evaluate that responsibly. But I wouldn't want to do anything that, if I got that kind of advice and input, suggested was putting us at greater risk, as opposed to, you know, greater protection.
DURBIN: I would think there would be red flags flying in every direction. I guess that's a bad analogy with Russia. But I -- I think there should be a cautionary feeling about any suggestion that we give to them information about our cyber capabilities and security. Wouldn't that be your first reaction?
WRAY: Well, Senator, my reaction is that any threat, any effort to interfere with our election systems, is one -- whether it's from a state actor like Russia, or from a non-state actor, it's something that needs to be taken very seriously. And I would think that it would be wise for all of us to proceed with great caution in the wake of that information.
DURBIN: I think I'd go further, but I'll leave that question.
You and I had a good conversation yesterday about President George W. Bush's reaction after 9/11, when it came to the Muslim- American population of the United States. I would appreciate it if you would recount your impression of the president's conduct after 9/11, when it came to this topic, and your own personal feelings about the patriotism of Muslim-Americans, and the role they play in keeping America safe.
WRAY: Thank you, Senator. It is something that we talked about yesterday. And -- and first off, let me say, I think the FBI director needs to be an FBI director for all Americans.
Second, the -- the conversation that you're referring to, one of the things that I remember being struck by, by President Bush, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when the dust had barely settled, was that he took great pains to speak -- I can't remember if he spoke at a mosque or what, but I remember that he made a special point of speaking out and saying that -- that this was not a situation where we, in the war on terror, were at war with Muslim-Americans.
And he made an outreach to the community at a time when it would not have been, by any measure, politically expedient to do that. And I remember thinking at the time that that was a remarkably courageous and noble gesture on his part, and I admired him for doing that, especially at that time, in that environment.
DURBIN: So I said to you, it is my impression, meeting with Muslim- Americans in my state, families and individuals, they are in the same state of mind today as Japanese-Americans were during World War II, when many were headed to internment camps for security purposes. What can you say on the record, now, if you were chosen as director of the FBI, about your relationship working with patriotic, God-fearing, lawful Muslim-Americans in our nation?
WRAY: Senator, I would say, sort of what I was saying just a minute ago, which is, I think the FBI director and the FBI needs to be -- the FBI and the FBI director for all Americans, including Muslim- Americans. And the -- my experience in terrorism investigations has been that some of the best leads we ever got were from members of that community, from Muslim-Americans. I remember having conversations with that, with, among others, a U.S. attorney from your state, you know, Pat Fitzgerald, a friend of mine.
WRAY: And so while certainly, we do face threats from certain radical ideologies when turned to violence, it is also true that those Americans, just like all Americans, are people that we need to get information from to help protect the homeland.
DURBIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Mr. Wray.
WRAY: Thank you.
GRASSLEY: Senator Cornyn?
CORNYN: Mr. Wray, congratulations to you and your family on this nomination. I appreciate your willingness to come back in public service at a time when, I think, the nation's confidence in its public institutions has been shaken. And, I think, it's very important to have somebody of your character and background and experience serve as the next FBI director, because I think public confidence in the FBI has been shaken over recent events.
I asked you when we met in my office about the Rod Rosenstein memo, that he wrote, and I understand there's an inspector general investigation. I don't want to ask you, specifically, about the facts of that. But you have, I think, in response to Senator Graham suggested that you never would see it appropriate to hold a press conference about a criminal investigation, and while declining to recommend prosecution disclose derogatory information about the target of that investigation. Is that correct?
WRAY: Senator, as we discussed when we met, while I don't think it would be appropriate for me to comment on Director Comey's decision -- I don't know what information he had or what all went into his decision -- but I can tell you that in my experience, both as a line prosecutor and as head of the criminal division, and now as a lawyer in private practice with the special appreciation for why some of those rules and policies are in effect, that I can't think of a time when anybody from the department, much less the FBI director, gave a press conference providing derogatory information about an uncharged individual. But I'm not an encyclopedic of knowledge of department history.
CORNYN: Well, the FBI director reports to the deputy attorney general. Isn't that correct?
WRAY: That's correct.
CORNYN: And the FBI can't prosecute cases on its own, can it? WRAY: That's also correct.
CORNYN: And so, the FBI is the premiere law enforcement agency in the world, it is an investigatory body and not a prosecutorial body. Correct?
WRAY: That's correct.
CORNYN: And that role is reserved, exclusively, to the attorney general and the department of justice, correct?
CORNYN: So, if an FBI director believes that the attorney general, or the deputy attorney general, have a conflict of interest such that they don't trust the Department of Justice to conduct its business, impartially, what's an FBI director, or anybody else, supposed to do? I mean, what is the part of the organization of the Department of Justice that would provide some recourse under those circumstances? In other words, is a special counsel the office that would be best suited to take over those investigations and decide whether a prosecution were, indeed, appropriate?
WRAY: Well, if there was a special counsel in place, then that would be the natural place to bring those concerns to. I think, you know, the department has a chain of command. So if there were conflicts at the higher levels, you could work your way down. There's also the inspector general of the Department of Justice that, maybe, under certain circumstances, would be an appropriate outlet.
I think you have to evaluate each situation based on the facts and circumstances and look at the rules.
CORNYN: Well, Director Comey said that when Attorney General Loretta Lynch had a meeting on the tarmac at the airport with President Clinton, knowing that Mrs. Clinton was the subject of an ongoing investigation, that, for him, that was the capper, as he put it. And he decided not to refer the matter to the deputy attorney general or to the attorney general but rather to take it upon himself to say that no reasonable prosecutor would prosecute a case like that under the circumstances.
The reason I'm asking this -- and I understand your hesitation about talking about a matter that's under investigation by the inspector general, but in Mr. Rosenstein's memo, he lays out his opinion that over the last year, he said, the FBI's reputation and credibility have suffered substantial damage, and it has affected the entire Department of Justice. You've read the memo, I trust. CORNYN: And he concludes, as you know, he said, "As a result, the FBI is unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them."
I want to be respectful of the line you're trying to draw here, but I need to know, and I think the committee needs to know, whether you understand the gravity of the mistakes made by the previous director and you pledge never to repeat them.
WRAY: Senator, as we discussed when we met, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein's memo, which I did read, the way he describes the department's policies and practices is consistent with my understanding of those policies and practices, and the way I would intend to approach those policies and practices.
It's not ever been my practice to blur the line between FBI investigator and Department of Justice prosecutor. It's never been my practice to speak publicly as a prosecutor or as a department official about uncharged individuals. I think those policies are important. I think they're in place for a reason. And I would expect to comply with them.
CORNYN: My statements to Director Comey on his appearance in front of this committee on several occasions is I believe you're a good man who's been dealt a difficult hand. And he certainly was.
But even good people make mistakes, and my view is Mr. Rosenstein lays out a pretty compelling rationale why Director Comey refused to recognize those mistakes and why public confidence could not be restored to the Department of Justice or the FBI until a director would acknowledge those and pledge not to repeat them.
So that's the purpose of my questions, and thank you for your answer.
So why is it important to have a separation between the FBI and the Department of Justice when it comes to the decision to prosecute a case?
WRAY: Well, it's been a system that's been in place since time immemorial, as near as I can tell. It's the same kind of system that occurs in state and local law enforcement, the difference between the police and the district attorney's office, et cetera.
CORNYN: Well, is it a check on the potential for abuse of power? WRAY: I do think -- right, I think the theory is that the prosecutors can evaluate the legal compliance -- constitutional protections, compliance with the rules of evidence, exercise prosecutorial discretion, which is very important. And I think if you collapse prosecutor and investigator into one role, you know, it's just one step away from having judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one body.
CORNYN: Well, I couldn't agree more. Over the Fourth of July, I had a chance to read a great book. If you haven't had a chance to read it at some time in your leisure time, which you won't have much of, I recommend it: "Hell Hound on His Trail." I don't know if you've read that about the J. Edgar Hoover and the Martin Luther King assassination and the manhunt that the FBI conducted following that terrible and tragic event.
But it pretty much lays out the case that J. Edgar Hoover, while he was responsible for modernizing the FBI and making it sure that it was equipped to do the job that is has continued to do to this day, in an extraordinary fashion, that at the same time that he was -- he had so much power that people were worried about his unchecked potential abuse on power.
And so I would just submit that it is important to have that separation of powers and that check on the FBI's, and as you point out, the independent prosecutorial discretion and judgment for the Department of Justice. And I think that was a mistake that Director Comey, albeit a good man, made and justified his termination.
In the minute or so I have left, let me just ask you about Project Safe Neighborhood. The reason why I'm so interested in this, when I was attorney general in Texas, we tried to learn from the Richmond U.S. attorney and their Project Exile focusing on gun crime.
And to my mind, it was one of the most innovative and successful ways to discourage people from using guns or carrying guns, particularly convicted felons and people who were under protective orders and the like, using the power of the federal law so that these would not be plea-bargained away, which they frequently are under the state system.
But with your experience in Project Safe Neighborhood, do you believe that that -- an enhanced role for the federal law enforcement authorities to go after violent and repeat gun offenders is warranted?
WRAY: I do think it's a very important part of that effort.