Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Nominee for FBI Director Testifies Before Senate. Aired 10:30- 11a ET

Aired July 12, 2017 - 10:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, NOMINATED TO BE DIRECTOR OF THE FBI: Thank you, Senator Feinstein. I recognize and respect how important an issue this is. First, let me say, my view is that torture is wrong, it's unacceptable, it's illegal and I think it's ineffective.

[10:30:06] Second let me say that I know...

(CROSSTALK)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Good beginning.

WRAY: I'm sorry?

FEINSTEIN: Good beginning.

WRAY: Exactly.

Second, both of my predecessors, Director Comey and Director Mueller, had a policy which I think is the right policy, and I would expect to continue, that the FBI is going to play no part in the use of any techniques of that sort.

Third, I would say that when I was assistant attorney general for the criminal division, one of the things that I think we did that I was most proud of was that we investigated, and in one particular case I can remember, successfully prosecuted a CIA contractor who had gone overboard and abused a detainee that he was interrogating. This was not in Iraq, but it was an Afghan detainee. And that was a case I'm very proud of.

Now, as to the...

FEINSTEIN: And that was the case of -- it was a homicide.

WRAY: Yes, it was a homicide. His -- his abuse of that detainee led to...

(CROSSTALK)

FEINSTEIN: ... that was the case.

WRAY: I'm sorry?

FEINSTEIN: The case was Rahman in Salt Pit.

WRAY: I don't remember the exact location, but I think it was in the Salt Pit. I do know it was an Afghan detainee. The interrogator's last name was Pisarro (ph). And my recollection is we prosecuted him in the -- I think the middle district of North Carolina, is my recollection.

And he was convicted and he was sentenced. And I think that was not only an important case in its own right, but I think sent an important message of the Criminal Division's intolerance for that kind of conduct.

Now, as to the rest of your question, we talked about this in our meeting. I can tell you that during my time as principal associate deputy attorney general, to my recollection, I never reviewed, much less provided comments on or input on, and much less approved, any memo from John Yoo on this topic.

I understand that he thinks it's possible. He might have. I can only tell this committee that I have no recollection whatsoever of that. And it's the kind of thing I think I would remember.

FEINSTEIN: I would think so.

WRAY: Now, my portfolio -- it may not be surprising, because my portfolio as principal associate deputy attorney general was focused on the Criminal Division, on the FBI, on the U.S. Attorney's Offices. It was not the -- the Office of Legal Counsel was not part of my portfolio. It's not to say that I never had any interaction with the Office of Legal Counsel, but that was not sort of squarely within my wheelhouse, which was already pretty full, to be honest.

So, later, as I said, as assistant attorney general, we did provide input on the general meaning of the statute, but not as to any particular technique. And the reason for that is because I wanted to preserve for the Criminal Division the proper role of prosecutors, which is not to provide legal advice or to -- forward-looking, but rather to be able to investigate, prosecute cases, including cases against people who go beyond the bounds of the law.

FEINSTEIN: Could you speak to your connections to the case at Abu Ghraib prison? I understand you received a memo from the CIA I.G. which stated the I.G. was investigating the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib. And that memo discussed a suspected homicide of detainee Manadel al-Jamadi, and concluded, quote, "I am referring this matter to you now, concurrent with the release of the final autopsy report," end quote.

So, when were you first informed about allegations of detainee abuse at this prison or elsewhere? Who informed you? And what actions did you take?

WRAY: Well, Senator, I don't have a clear recollection in my head about when -- exactly when I first learned about the abuse at Abu Ghraib in particular. I know we were getting referrals from the CIA I.G. on various detainee matters and investigating those. And I believe at some point, some of those referrals began to include not just places like in Afghanistan, but also in Iraq.

And we opened any number of investigations in response to those referrals. A lot of those investigations took a while, and I think a lot of them may have come to fruition after I left the department in the very beginning of May of 2005.

FEINSTEIN: So, you have no specific recollection.

Let me -- I have a little bit more time -- let me ask you about civil injunction authority related to terrorism. As you know, there's a relentless and growing ISIL recruitment effort through social media platforms.

[10:35:00] And recruitment is repeatedly identified in nearly all of the 100-plus criminal indictments brought by federal authorities during the past two years relating to ISIL.

The civil injunction authority, as I understand it, exists for the attorney general to obtain orders against those who provide material support to foreign terrorist organizations, as well as to shut down websites from distributing software for spying on people.

How do you feel about use of this civil injunction? And what commitment to explore it and possibly use it would you be prepared to make?

WRAY: Well, Senator, I'm not overly familiar with this particular tool in the arsenal that the FBI has. But I would be very interested in learning more about it and seeing how it can be used more effectively.

I will say that from my experience in combating terrorism back in the early 2000s, that material support legal remedies are particularly important. One of the things that we used to say to people that I feel very strongly about is, if America is counting on people to catch the terrorists with their finger on the switch of a bomb, that's way overly optimistic about the ability.

And so you need to look at a terrorist plot by looking at the whole continuum of it, where it begins. And somewhere on that continuum, we'd far rather catch a terrorist with his hands on a check than his hands on a bomb.

And so, that to me -- any kind of material support remedy that is available is particularly important to try to prevent attacks, as opposed to trying to play catch-up after attacks have already occurred.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you.

One last quick question. Will you commit to informing this committee if you witness or learn of any efforts to interfere with the work of Special Counsel Mueller?

WRAY: Assuming that I can do it legally and appropriately, absolutely. I'm very committed to supporting Director Mueller in the special counsel investigation in whatever way is appropriate for me to do that. I've worked closely with Director Mueller in my past government service. I view him as the consummate straight shooter, and somebody I have enormous respect for. And I would be pleased to do what I can to support him in his mission.

FEINSTEIN: What I'm asking is if you learn about any machinations to tamper with that, that you let this committee know.

WRAY: Understood.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you.

WRAY: Thank you.

FEINSTEIN: If you want to say more, I'm happy to hear it.

WRAY: Well, Senator, I would consult with the appropriate officials -- anytime talking to this committee, I would consult with the appropriate officials to make sure that I'm not jeopardizing an investigation or anything like that. But I would consider an effort to tamper with Director Mueller's investigation to be unacceptable and inappropriate, and it would need to be dealt with very sternly and appropriately indeed.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Senator Hatch?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Well, welcome to the committee. We're -- I couldn't be more pleased to have you in this position. And I'm very grateful that you would be willing to take it, because you had a very nice life outside of government. And frankly, it's -- this is -- this is going to be an interesting life, and I'm not sure it's going to be a nice life. And I have a lot of empathy for you and your family.

Let me begin with the issue of encryption. I've long been a proponent of strong encryption technology. Such technology is essential to protecting consumers' privacy and keeping America's tech sector at the forefront of global innovation.

As the chairman of the Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force, I've had conversations with a number of tech leaders such as Apple's Tim Cook, just to mention one, on the importance of encryption. Proposals to mandate so-called back doors into encrypted devices are not the answer, in my opinion. I have tremendous respect for former Director Comey, but in candor, this is an issue that I don't think he got quite right.

What we need in my view is a public-private partnership in which Congress, law enforcement and industry stakeholders work together to find the path forward.

Now, Mr. Wray, will you commit to work with Congress and with industry stakeholders in a collaborative manner on the issue so that we can find a solution that is workable for all sides?

WRAY: Senator, I know that this is an issue that's been very important to you for a long time, and we discussed it in our meeting. As wee discussed then, I think this is one of the most difficult issues facing the country. There's a balance obviously that has to be struck between the importance of encryption, which I think we can all respect when there are so many threats to our systems, and the importance of giving law enforcement the tools that they lawfully need to keep us all safe.

[10:40:09] And so, I don't know, sitting here today as an outsider and a nominee before this committee, what the solution is. But I do know that we have to find a solution.

And my experience in trying to find solutions is that it's more productive for people to work together than to be pointing fingers, blaming each other. And that's the approach I've tried to take to almost every problem I've tackled. And that's the approach I would want to take here in working with this committee, with the private sector.

One advantage, having been in the private sector for a little while, is that I think I know how to talk to the private sector. And I would look for ways to try to see if I could get the private sector more on board to understand why this issue is so important to keeping us all safe.

HATCH: That's all I can ask for. I'd like to turn now to the issue of child predators and what we can do to protect our loved ones from harm.

I recently joined with Senator Franken to introduce a bipartisan Child Protection Improvements Act, which would provide access to FBI background checks to youth-serving organizations to ensure that child predators are not able to obtain employment with such organizations. Now, the bill passed the House of Representatives earlier this year, and I want to thank the FBI for providing very constructive support, and technical assistance on this important bill.

Will you commit to continue working with Congress to ensure that youth-serving organizations have access to FBI background checks for their employees and volunteers?

WRAY: Senator, I know this is an important issue. It's one that -- that you raise and that Senator Franken also raised. And I can commit that it's something I'm very interested in trying to figure out a way to support those efforts and -- and work with -- with both of you and others on.

The Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section was in the Criminal Division when I oversaw it, and brought some of the most important cases. So, I'm keenly aware, on a personal level, of the threat that predators face to the most vulnerable populations in this country. And I -- and I want to work with everybody to try to find better solutions. HATCH: Well, thank you. And we'll work together. Your agency has strongly supported my rapid DNA legislation, which passed the Senate earlier this year, in May. Current law restricts access to the FBI's Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, to DNA records generated in an accredited crime lab.

Recent developments in rapid DNA technology, however, offers a great promise in speeding up the timetable for DNA analysis. Using rapid DNA technology, a law enforcement officer can know, within two hours, whether an individual is wanted for an outstanding crime or has the connection to evidence from a crime scene.

Now, my bill extends -- expands access to CODIS to DNA records generated through rapid DNA instruments. It will help law enforcement more quickly solve crime and exonerate the innocent.

Now, I'd like you to commit, if you can, to continuing the FBI's longstanding tradition of working with Congress to improve the way DNA analysis is used in our criminal justice system and to reduce inefficiencies in backlogs of DNA sample analysis. Will you help us on that?

WRAY: Senator, I would look very much forward to working with -- with you and others on the committee on -- on this important issue. I'm not up to speed on the latest advances in DNA technology, but I -- even when I served in law enforcement before, it was already clear what a valuable tool it is, both to ensure that the right people are caught and prosecuted, but also to make sure that the wrong people aren't unfairly accused. And it strikes me as just good sense law enforcement to try to come up with a way to make that tool more readily available and more rapidly available.

HATCH: Thank you. In 2015, the FBI investigated Secretary Clinton's unclassified server system and determined that 81 e-mail chains contained classified information, ranging from confidential to top- secret special access program levels of the -- at the time they were sent. As someone who has served 20 years in the Senate Intelligence Committee, longer than any other member of the Senate has ever served, I have deep respect for the intelligence community and for the need to protect and properly handle classified information.

I was very troubled by the fact that Secretary Clinton was so careless about she handled classified communications when she was secretary of state. What is your perspective on how the FBI should handle cases in the future when individuals do not properly handle classified documents and information?

WRAY: Well, Senator, this is an issue that's very important to me.

[10:45:02] In my prior government service, we, because of the Counterespionage Section, had jurisdiction over those kinds of investigations, and they reported up to me. We investigated a number of cases involving unauthorized and inappropriate disclosure of classified information.

One of the real eye-opening things for me coming into the leadership for the department, from having been a line prosecutor, was just how much of our sources and methods come from our overseas partners. I just think most Americans, rightly, but have no idea just how important that is.

And if we can't protect classified information, it's not just that information that gets jeopardized, which can lead to risk to lives of intelligence community personnel, and all sorts of other compromising situations, but even more importantly, it causes our allies to lose confidence in us and their willingness to share information with us. And if that dries up, we're in a world of hurt.

So, I think those things need to be treated very severely and investigated very aggressively.

HATCH: Well, thank you. I'm very concerned about the violent crime trends that we're seeing throughout the United States. According to the FBI's 2015 statistics, violent crimes increased in our country by nearly 4 percent, over the year before, and murders increased by nearly 11 percent.

Can you explain to us what you will do as FBI director to work with state and local partners to curve this disturbing trend in violent crimes?

WRAY: Well, Senator, as -- as Senator Nunn mentioned in his introduction, dealing with the scourge of violent crime, in particular, gun violence, is a -- a subject that I've spent a lot of time on in my -- my prior law enforcement service. I think the FBI has a -- a lot on its plate, but it needs to look for the ways that it can contribute.

Obviously, ATF and, as you mentioned, state and local partners are essential to that effort. And I think the approach should be for the FBI to see what it can do, where it uniquely prides -- provides value.

To me, that might be things like organized gang activity, you know, MS-13, you know, places where the FBI has particular expertise that it can support, and supplement, and augment, and complement the efforts of ATF, state and local law enforcement. But it needs to be a -- you know, the old saying about the whole being greater than the sum of the parts kind of approach, and that's the approach I would take.

HATCH: Well, thank you. I think that's a good approach. And I just want to thank you for being willing to serve and to take on this awesome responsibility.

And I want to thank your family, being willing to sacrifice themselves, because we know that many times you're going to be away from the family and working pretty doggone hard. So, thank you for your willingness to serve. And I -- I intend to fully support you, and I hope everybody on this committee and in this senate, will do likewise.

WRAY: Thank you, Senator. It means a lot.

GRASSLEY: Senator Leahy? SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: (OFF-MIKE) Thank you.

It's good to see you again, Mr. Wray. Thank you for coming by yesterday. And welcome back to the committee. I -- the Senator Nunn mentioned Griffin Bell. And I enjoyed our talk about -- about Judge Bell.

Now, I -- I wish you were here under different circumstances because I'm troubled by the abrupt firing of predecessor, Director Comey. The president, nor the White House, initially, misled the public about why Director Comey was fired.

Then, the president made his motivation very clear in an interview with NBC News. He said he fired Director Comey because of the Russian thing. Of course, the Russian thing was the FBI's investigation into potential collusion between the Kremlin and the president's campaign and administration. Now, there are multiple investigations about Russia and their interference, as similar interference we've seen in other countries by Russia.

Just yesterday, we learned that a number of members of the Trump campaign were eager to work and talk with members of the Russian organization, even though they're an adversary of ours, about the campaign. I talk about this not so much in history, although we need to know exactly what happened, because we got to make sure it doesn't happen again.

[10:50:00] I don't care if they're helping a Republican or a Democrat, no country, especially an enemy like Russia, should be able to interfere with our -- with our country.

Now, the FBI is one of the most powerful tools available to the president. And from what we've seen from the White House, they may be expecting your loyalty, just as the president did with Director Comey.

Now, you told me yesterday, there's been no question by anybody in the White House asking you for a pledge of loyalty, is that correct?

WRAY: That's correct, Senator.

My loyalty is to the Constitution, to the rule of law, and to the mission of the FBI. And no one asked me for any kind of loyalty oath at any point during this process, and I sure as heck didn't offer one.

LEAHY: And I also assume, from what you told me yesterday, you would not give one, if asked?

WRAY: Correct.

LEAHY: And the reason I ask this, I remember when then-Senator Jeff Sessions asked at great length he was questioning Sally Yates at her nomination hearing. And he said, "If the views the president wants to execute are unlawful, should the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, say no?"

Now, you served with Sally Yates, and you can imagine, and probably not surprised, her answer was, she'd say no. And she stayed true to her word. Of course, as soon as she said no, when she refused to defend President Trump's discriminatory Muslim ban, she got fired.

Now, so I'm going to ask you the same question that Jeff Sessions asked of Sally Yates. And, you know, she kept her word and, of course, got fired for it.

If the president asks you to do something unlawful or unethical, what do you say?

WRAY: First, I would try to talk him out of it. And if that failed, I would resign.

LEAHY: Thank you.

Why did the president fire Director Comey?

WRAY: You know, Senator, I don't know. I don't -- I'm not familiar with all of the information the president may or may not have had. So I'm really not in a position to speak to that.

I -- I do know there's a special counsel investigation now under way, with my former colleague Director Mueller leading that. And I think that issue falls within his investigation.

LEAHY: Well, of course, former Director Mueller is -- is looking at whether crimes took place. What I worry about when the president has said, and I quote him, "Face great pressure because of Russia," close quote. And that pressure was, quote, "taken off," close quote, by firing Director Comey. Does that explanation trouble you?

WRAY: Well, Senator, I -- I really don't know all the circumstances surrounding that statement and the context.

I -- I can tell you that during my time at the department working with then-Deputy Attorney General Comey, 12 years ago and before that, in all my dealings with Jim Comey, he was a terrific lawyer, a dedicated public servant and a wonderful colleague. I haven't been in touch with him in a number of years, but...

(CROSSTALK)

LEAHY: Will you work and actually pledge to keep the FBI from any political interference or influence?

WRAY: Absolutely, Senator.

LEAHY: I was a prosecutor at the time of J. Edgar Hoover. I never want to see us go back to that era either, where the FBI director did things we now know were illegal, improper, and done for his own political motivation. The -- and I know Senator Grassley made some comment about that too.

The intelligence community -- and this has now been public, including the FBI, the CIA, NSA, concluded with high confidence that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in order to denigrate Secretary Clinton and help elect Donald Trump.

Do you have any doubt that Russia interfered with our elections hoping to elect Donald Trump?

WRAY: Well, Senator, the only thing I've been able to review on that at the moment is the public form of the intelligence community's assessment, the summary. So I don't have access to all the classified information.

But I will tell you that, from what I reviewed, I have no reason whatsoever to doubt the assessment of the intelligence community.

LEAHY: Will you read the classified sections if you're confirmed?

[10:55:00] WRAY: Definitely. It'd be one of the first things I'd want to see.

LEAHY: Thank you.

Because I -- you see the actions of Russia in Europe and in a number of other parts around the world trying to expand their influence. You see them wanting to influence other people's elections. The last thing in the world we want them to be able to do is interfere with ours. I don't want any other country to, but especially a country that is as adversarial to the interests of the United States as Russia.

Now, during a Federalist Society event on originalism and criminal procedures in 2005, you discussed the extent to which foreigners were protected by the Fourth Amendment while on American soil. You brought up the case of U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez, in which the Supreme Court held that a citizen and resident of Mexico who was transported to and incarcerated in the United States was not protected by the Fourth Amendment, because he's not a member of the people. You then said you think that might be a good way of handling undocumented aliens.

To what extent do you believe Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure apply to undocumented aliens in the United States?

WRAY: Well, Senator, I -- I haven't studied Fourth Amendment jurisprudence on this topic in a long time.

LEAHY: You spoke about it.

WRAY: At the time my recollection was that I was speaking -- the conference was about originalism. And I think the main thrust of my remarks was about how those who criticize originalism in the context of criminal constitutional jurisprudence need to come up with an explanation for what -- if not originalism, then what. And I was trying to make the point that there's some -- some -- that there's some logic to looking at originalism in that context.

But I -- I haven't looked at those remarks or that issue in a long time.

LEAHY: You think, as FBI director, the undocumented aliens of the United States are -- have any protection whatsoever, or could an FBI agent just go and break in buildings anywhere they want and search for anything they want?

WRAY: Well, no, Senator. I think we need to be mindful of the -- the civil liberties of all.

LEAHY: Thank you.

Do you agree that water-boarding is torture and is illegal?

WRAY: Yes.

LEAHY: Thank you.

That certainly (ph) was the same answer that...

WRAY: I'm sorry.

LEAHY: That's the same answer Director Comey gave when I asked him that same question.

I've worked with -- for years with Chairman Grassley to address the concerns the two of us have related -- there are -- there are things we do on a bipartisan basis on this committee. And Senator Grassley and I have been concerned about the FBI's flawed hair and fiber analysis testimony.

I -- I asked Director Comey a question in May, and he promised me a follow-up, what are we doing going over the 3,000 cases that were closed because of faulty analyses by the FBI. If those cases come up, even as a missing transcript, will you commit to having an agent conduct in-person visits to determine whether documents are necessary to find out what happened?

I say this because I remember as a prosecutor using the FBI's hair and fiber analyses, and if we've had people convicted because they were faulty we should know that.

WRAY: Well, Senator, I -- I share your concern about having forensic science done appropriately. Cases stand or fall on that, and we can't have innocent people convicted because of flawed science.

I'm not familiar with the particular problems that occurred in this -- in this particular arena, but it's something I'd want to get briefed on early on and see what other appropriate action might need to be taken.

LEAHY: Thank you.

And, Mr. Chairman, I'll -- I'll have a follow-up question for him partly about the question raised of former Mayor Giuliani's influence with the FBI during some of these investigations and others.

And I'd ask your commitment, if you're confirmed, to respond to those questions.

GRASSLEY: (OFF-MIKE)

LEAHY: Will you respond to them?

WRAY: Absolutely. Senator, I look forward to being responsive to -- to the members of this committee in whatever way is appropriate.

GRASSLEY: I didn't mean to interrupt his answer, I'm sorry.

Senator Graham?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Thank you, Mr. Wray. I think you'd be an outstanding FBI director and your words today will matter. America's listening about what's going on in this hearing and you're going to be speaking pretty soon I think as the top cop in the land.

[11:00:07] Are you familiar with an article from Politico, January the 11 --