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INSIDE POLITICS

Continuing Coverage of Confirmation Hearing for FBI Director. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired July 12, 2017 - 12:30   ET

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


SEN. JOHN NEELY KENNEDY, R-LOUISIANA: -- better with the public than investigation.

[12:30:00]

WRAY: Then I would try to persuade the person asking me as to why the request was ill considered.

KENNEDY: And -- and what if they said do it anyway?

WRAY: Then I would consult with the appropriate ethics officials and make a judgement about what my next course of action should be.

KENNEDY: OK, and what if they said the ethics -- well, strike that. I don't know. Let's don't speculate with the ethics people would say.

We have a -- an extraordinary crime problem in New Orleans. We're rapidly becoming the murder and armed robbery capital of the Western hemisphere.

If you're confirmed, and I believe you will be, can I count on you to, within the -- the limited scarce resources you have, and all -- all -- all resources that (ph) are (ph) scarce or ought to be considered to be scarce, can I count on you to give us a little advice and help? We're wrestling with a -- with a huge crime problem, and -- and we're losing.

WRAY: Well, Senator, I -- you can count on me to take a hard look and figure out how we can be more effective in New Orleans, just like we need to figure out how we can be more effective in every city that's -- that's targeted by -- by violent crime.

KENNEDY: OK. Thank you, Mr. Wray.

WRAY: Thank you, Senator.

KENNEDY: Madam Chair? Madam Ranking Member, I -- I'm -- I was handed a note, and I'm supposed to say -- but you can say if -- if you'd like that we will...

FEINSTEIN: (OFF-MIKE)

KENNEDY: ...we will...

(LAUGHTER) It's kind of Senator Nunn, isn't it?

(LAUGHTER)

We will stand in recess for 10 minutes. If I had a gavel, I'd bang it. But...

(LAUGHTER)

(RECESS)

SASSE: All right, round two of the proctology exam. We are calling back to order the confirmation hearing of the nominee to the FBI director, Christopher Wray, and we'll begin with Senator Coons.

COONS: Thank you, Senator Sasse; thank you, future Chairman Sasse, for the opportunity to question the witness. Mr. Wray, thank you for your prior service, and your continued willingness to serve our country, particularly at this important and difficult time.

And I know this may not need repeating, but let us not forget why we're having this hearing. Your predecessor, James Comey, was not even at the halfway point of his tenured term as FBI director when President Trump abruptly fired him without cause, and without warning. And President Trump said, when he fired Director Comey, that he was thinking about the FBI's investigation of Russian interference into our elections, an investigation that Director Comey was then overseeing. So now, more than ever, I believe it to be crucial that our next FBI director be prepared to be steadfastly independent. And as we had a chance to discussion before this hearing, it falls on you today not only to clearly demonstrate to our committee that you possess the legal, investigative, and management skills required for the position for which you've been nominated, but that you have a fierce commitment to maintaining the integrity of the FBI as an independent agency, and that you will conduct yourself as FBI director in a way that is above partisanship.

So let's move to it, if we might. First, how will you ensure that the FBI provides all the resources that Special Counsel Mueller needs to thoroughly conduct and complete the investigation he's currently in charge of?

WRAY: Well, Senator, the -- the first thing I would do, if confirmed, is to reach out to former Director Mueller and elicit his advice about what it is he needs, and whether he's getting it from the FBI. And knowing former Director Mueller, and knowing what a straight talker and plain talker he is, I have no doubt that if he's not getting what he needs, he would let me know.

COONS: I agree. Attorney General Sessions praised your selection as the FBI nominee. Did you interview with Attorney General Sessions?

WRAY: I interviewed with Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and Attorney General Sessions together, at the same time.

COONS: And did either of them ask you about the conduct of the Russia investigation during your interview?

WRAY: No.

COONS: Attorney General Sessions, as we discussed, and you well know, is recused from, and I quote, "...any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States, including the investigation into Russian interference."

As I told you when we met before, I'm concerned that Attorney General Sessions hasn't fully complied with the scope of his recusal. Is it appropriate for the attorney general to make public comments on the ongoing investigation, to engage in decisions about its resourcing, funding, or staffing? Is that an appropriate part of his management role of the Agency as attorney general?

WRAY: Well, Senator, I'm not -- not sure it's for me to speak to the attorney general's decision-making about his own public comments. I -- I would say that if he's recused from an investigation, that to me, that means he shouldn't be participating in decision-making about the investigation. But of course, the attorney general is the head of -- of the entire Justice Department, and there's -- as important as this particular investigation is -- and it is extremely important, in my view -- there are many, many, many other things that the FBI and the Department are responsible for, and I think that is the appropriate role for the attorney general as its leader.

COONS: So I'll agree with you that, in my view, it's not appropriate for the attorney general to participate in investigations related to the Trump campaign. And as the person in charge of the operations, the Department of Justice, he is involved in making, at the highest level, management decisions. But it's exactly those decisions about the access to resources, the scope, the trajectory of Bob Mueller's investigation that I -- that I wanted to make sure I got to.

Will you commit to studying the scope of Attorney General Sessions' recusal, and ensuring appropriate procedures are in place to honor it at the FBI, and then reporting any violations of that recusal to this Congress?

WRAY: Well, Senator, I'm -- I'm not sure I'm the authority over his recusal scope. What I would commit to you is that I will take a close look, shortly upon being confirmed, if confirmed, to, as I said, making sure that former Director Mueller, now Special Counsel Mueller, has all the appropriate resources that he ought to have. And my expectation is that I would remain committed to that support, regardless of any decisions by anybody else in the Department.

COONS: So if a directive came down from the attorney general about prioritization or resources that you thought inappropriately interfered, or interfered in any way, with the resources requested by Special Counsel Mueller, you'd act to prevent that from hindering the investigation.

WRAY: I would not tolerate any inappropriate influence on Special Counsel Mueller's investigation, to the extent that I'm supporting it. At the end of the day, it's his investigation.

COONS: We had another conversation last week -- it's been raised by other colleagues -- about an episode during your time at the Department of Justice when you were prepared to resign, and this was over an ongoing, but unauthorized by Congress, surveillance program. And you testified previously, you hadn't been read into all the details of it. And it seemed in some ways you were going on a gut hunch. You were following people who you knew were thoroughly read in, who you'd practiced closely with, and whom you admired. That's -- I'm just characterizing roughly what I heard before.

But now in hindsight, you've had time to better understand what was going on, what was the contest, and what were the issues. In hindsight, were you right to be willing to throw your career aside, and to be willing to join these folks in resigning, had they had to, and would you do that again?

WRAY: So the first part of your question, Senator, I have not for any minute ever regretted my willingness to resign, as I explained it to Deputy Attorney General Comey, at that time. My decision was not based solely on gut. My decision was based on knowledge, very close working knowledge, with the range of people who -- who were read in, and knowing that they were not, as I said to Senator Whitehouse, not shrinking violets; very tough on terror; very thoughtful, intellectually honest people; and people who, by the way, didn't all agree with each other all the time.

So when I put all that together -- my familiarity of those people, how they think, how they come out on war-on-terror issues, and knowing that they felt strongly enough that they were willing to resign over much greater knowledge of the program than I had at the time -- I was confident then that resigning with them, if necessary, was the right decision.

And now later, having learned many more of the facts that weren't available to them -- to me then, I'm even more confident that it would have been the right decision.

COONS: Thank you, thank you for that. Former Attorney General Bell, I think you quoted before as saying that, you should be willing to resign if necessary over conduct if you're pressed to engage in it that's either unethical, illegal or unconstitutional. Could you just explore for me for a few more minutes, what were the values that you brought to that decision, and what values, among those three or others, would you bring to having to make a similar decision in the future, if you get pressed to do something that meets one of those three tests suggested by former Attorney General Bell?

WRAY: Well, the values I brought to that particular decision were the knowledge that it was the appropriate -- that the appropriate parts of the Justice Department and the FBI were doing their job, doing their duty to evaluate the legality of the program in question. And I thought that knowing the confidence that I had in them, in their commitment to duty, their ability to do their job, that that needed to be respected; respected even to the point of me having to resign to support them in it. I'm not sure if I got all of your question, so I -- I might need you to refresh me.

COONS: That -- that's more than satisfactory, thank you. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired after she refused to defend the travel ban, based on her concerns the order wasn't lawful or consistent with the facts. If you were fired or resigned for refusing to carry out a Presidential order, will you commit to come to Congress to testify about that decision and what drove you to make that decision?

WRAY: Well, certainly, if I legally and appropriately can. I mean, I'd need to know the circumstances of any particular situation, but I would want to comply with the law and the rules, first and foremost. But if I can, I would comply with any lawful request from Congress.

COONS: Let me -- if I now -- in my last minute return to a question that was raised earlier. I just want to make sure we've gotten this clearly. Senator Graham asked you about an e-mail to Donald Trump Junior, offering the Trump campaign very high-level and sensitive information, and this is quote from the e-mail -- as part of Russia and its government support for Mr. Trump, chief ethics lawyers for former Presidents George W. Bush and President Obama have said, and this is a joint quote: -- "We've worked on political campaigns for decades, and have never heard of an offer like this one. If we had, we would have insisted upon immediate notification of the FBI, and so would any normal campaign lawyer, official, or even senior volunteer."

Russian interference in our election happened, and may very well happen again. If a campaign staffer or a senator, or someone working around them, gets an offer of foreign government assistance to defeat its opponent, do you agree the right thing to do is to promptly notify the FBI?

WRAY: Senator, I would hope that anyone who is aware of an effort to -- or an attempt to interfere with our elections would report that to the appropriate authorities. I mean, just whether it's somebody in the campaign or somebody anywhere else. I think the -- especially in the context of cyber-type intrusions, the FBI and others in the intelligence community depend on people who are receiving the contact from reaching out and coordinating with law enforcement intelligence community, and that's a big, important part of the messaging on that effort.

And so I would think about in that situation, I would hope, would want to bring the issue to the attention of the appropriate authorities, assuming they think that something untoward or inappropriate has occurred.

COONS: Can you reach any other conclusion from that e-mail, other than something untoward and inappropriate is being proffered?

WRAY: Senator, I -- I haven't read the e-mail. I haven't even had a chance to read any of the newspaper coverage. It's all happened during a time when I've spent all day going from one Senate building to another meeting with all of your colleagues, and so I'm sorry, but I just don't know the details of the e-mail. COONS: I think Senator Graham has already asked for you to get ready and (INAUDIBLE) respond to this in the future. Do I have a few more minutes, or Senator Sasse, do you have another round of questions? I understand we're waiting for Senator Flake who may be on his way.

SASSE: I had another round, but we also have votes. So you can go two more, but not a full round. A few more minutes.

COONS: I will conclude.

SASSE: Thank you, sir.

COONS: Let me simply say to your family, I'm grateful for your willingness to undertake this, and to you personally, I'm grateful for your willingness to undertake this.

As we spoke, I think we're at an absolutely essential moment for the future of rule of law and respect for rule of law and respect for institutions and traditions in this country, and as you heard from Senators, both Republican and Democrat, this is an essential confirmation hearing, and a critical role which you're undertaking, because of pace at which things are moving, because of the challenges and issues and allegations in front of us, because of the central role the FBI plays in counterintelligence, in enforcing our laws, in protecting our republic, and I am confident that you have the skills, the experience and the values to be a great FBI Director. I appreciate your testimony in front of this committee today.

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

COONS: Thank you.

SASSE: I'd like to associate myself with those comments from the Senator from Delaware as well. I think this is a critically important time in public life, and for not just the rule of law but also the norms around it, and I appreciate the thoughts and sentiments from the Delaware Senator.

I'd like to return to something you said in your opening statement, and I'm quoting you: "While the FBI has justly earned its reputation as the finest law enforcement agency in the world, its special agents, analysts and staff operate largely out of public view. They toil at great risk to themselves and at great sacrifice by their families, but they happily defer individual recognition because they believe that the principles they serve are so much larger than themselves."

That's beautifully crafted, and as someone who's worked with and around the Bureau before, 36,000 current employees at the Bureau, is that right?

[13:00:00]

WRAY: I think it's about that.