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FBI Director Testifies After Trump's Attacks on Agency; Aired 10:30-11a ET
Aired December 7, 2017 - 10:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:30:18] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. FBI director Christopher Wray taking questions right now in the House Judiciary Committee.
Remember the president just said the FBI is in tatters. Let's listen.
REP. ROBERT W. GOODLATTE, R-VA: -- put out as a justification for closing the investigation of the former secretary of state.
CHRISTOPHER A. WRAY, DIRECTOR, FBI: As I said, Mr. Chairman, I believe the standard is gross negligence. I leave it to others to conclude whether "extremely careless" and "gross negligence" are the same thing.
But I will say that the particulars of the investigation and the decisions that were made and whether or not it was handled appropriately is, as I think it should be, the subject of an outside, independent investigation by the inspector general, and I look forward to his findings, as I'm sure the committee does, as well.
GOODLATTE: In July of 2016, the State Department revealed that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton exchanged on her unsecured private server nearly two dozen top secret e-mails with three State Department officials.
The classification Top Secret means, in part, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to national security.
Can you explain to the American people how the FBI could not be investigating actions taken by individuals like those named in 2016 -- Jacob Sullivan, Cheryl Mills, William Burns -- that threatened grave damage to the national security?
WRAY: Well, as I said, Mr. Chairman, the handling of the investigation and whether or not -- in particular whether or not decisions made in that investigation were the product of any improper considerations is precisely what the outside, independent inspector general is investigating. And, when we get his findings, I will look and see what appropriate action we can take at the FBI in response to that.
GOODLATTE: Can anyone on this committee set up a private server now and conduct classified business on it, since not a single person has been prosecuted or held accountable for the Clinton e-mail investigation? WRAY: No.
GOODLATTE: Thank you.
Director Wray, what are you doing to ensure that the top ranks of the Federal Bureau of Investigation are cleared of individuals who are tainted by bias or those who have exhibited indiscretion by failing to demonstrate the integrity Americans expect from their top law enforcement officials?
WRAY: Well, the first thing I'm doing is respecting the outside, independent investigations that are underway. My preference is to be one of these people who is not a "act first and ask questions later" kind of guy, but an "ask questions first and then act" kind of guy.
And so I think these matters are being looked at, as they should be, by somebody outside the FBI. And, when those findings come to me, I will take appropriate action, if necessary.
In the meantime, I am emphasizing in every audience I can inside the bureau that our decisions need to be made based on nothing other than the facts and the law and our rules and our processes and our core values, and not based on any political considerations by any side of the aisle.
GOODLATTE: Thank you.
Does the FBI obtain a warrant before accessing and reading Americans' e-mail?
WRAY: It depends on the situation, but yes.
GOODLATTE: So can you explain why you obtain a criminal search warrant before reading an e-mail of someone under investigation for a crime?
WRAY: I'm sorry, can you repeat the question?
GOODLATTE: Can you explain why you obtain a criminal search warrant before reading an e-mail of someone under investigation for a crime?
WRAY: Well, in the situations where a search warrant is required, and, of course, under the Fourth Amendment, there are plenty of situations where a search warrant is not required -- there are all sorts of aspects to the Fourth Amendment. But, in those situations where we seek a warrant, it's because the Fourth Amendment requires it.
GOODLATTE: Section 702, as you and I both noted, is up for renewal within a few weeks. It is a critical national security tool that must be reauthorized. You and I agree on that, as well. But it is just that -- a national security tool, not a criminal tool.
Is it reasonable, when accessing content that shows evidence of a routine crime and is located in the FBI's 702 database, that agents should obtain some process, as is required in criminal cases?
WRAY: Mr. Chairman, I've appreciated our discussions on Section 702. My own view is that Section 702, as currently drafted, which is the view shared by the courts that have looked at the question, is fully constitutional and lawful.
And I would say to you that our handling of querying of the information in the 702 database is querying of information that is already lawfully and constitutionally in the FBI's possession and is most useful at the earliest stages, when information is coming in in fragments and the bureau is trying to make assessments of what do we have, is this a real threat, where is this going. And I would implore the committee and the Congress not to begin rebuilding the wall that existed before 9/11.
GOODLATTE: Well, thank you. My time's expired, but I will add that we share that concern, as well, and that's why we have drawn a clear distinction between national security and solving domestic crimes.
And, when it comes to the query, we allow that to move forward. But, when you then find that there's something related to the investigation of a domestic crime, then you should go ahead and get a search warrant. And we've protected the FBI's ability to access that database for the purpose of a query, but then, if you're going to take it further and actually read the contents of the e-mails -- if they're national security, go right ahead, because you may be stopping a terrorist attack.
But if you're solving a domestic crime, whatever it might be, then I think you need to respect the civil liberties of American citizens and get a warrant.
I now recognize the gentleman from New York, Mr. Nadler, for his questions.
NADLER: Thank you.
Let me say prior to my statement that I totally agree with the chairman and his observations on 702 and on the distinctions we made in our bill between national security and counterintelligence operations, on the one hand, and investigations of domestic crimes, on the other, where we -- where you should get a warrant, where you'd normally need a warrant.
Director Wray, I'd like to ask you for your help putting the events of the last few days into context. To set the stage, over the summer, in an interview with The New York Times, President Trump stated, quote, "When Nixon came along, out of courtesy, the FBI started reporting to the Department of Justice, but the FBI person really reports directly to the president of the United States," close quote.
Director Wray, you have one direct report to the executive branch. To whom do you directly report?
WRAY: I directly report to the deputy attorney general, who then reports to the attorney general.
NADLER: Thank you.
Has President Trump ever asked you to sidestep the chain of command and report directly to him?
NADLER: Also, over the summer, former Director Comey testified that, during a private dinner, President Trump told him, quote, "I need loyalty. I expect loyalty." Has President Trump ever asked you for loyalty?
WRAY: I have never been asked by the president to take any kind of loyalty oath. My loyalty is to the Constitution, to the laws of this country and to the -- you know, the good men and people of America.
NADLER: Thank you.
Last week, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to one felony count of lying to the FBI about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador.
I would like to put President Trump's initial Twitter reaction up on the screen. I won't read it, but I will simply say he claims here to have known that General Flynn committed a crime at the time General Flynn was fired.
There's come controversy as to whether the president actually wrote this Tweet. The White House later claimed that it came from the president's private attorney. But I'm not sure that it matters who wrote it, given the Department of Justice's litigating position that these tweets are, quote, "official statements of the president of The United States," close quote.
A few clarifying questions, Mr. Director. In your experience at the Department of Justice, have you ever prosecuted a case involving a charge of obstruction of justice?
NADLER: And Sections 1503, 1505 and 1512 of Title 18 make it a crime if someone corruptly, quote, "obstructs, influences or impedes any official proceeding," close quote. What does it mean to corruptly obstruct, influence or impede an official proceeding?
WRAY: Well, Congressman, that would require me to get into kind of a legal discussion...
WRAY: ... and it's been a while since I've looked at the case law on this subject. I do know -- have (ph) somebody who's been both a line prosecutor and a senior Justice Department official and a defense attorney -- that sometimes the language of that statute can be trickier than folks...
NADLER: OK, fair enough -- fair enough. And I'm glad you're respecting the fact I only have five minutes. Does obstruction of justice require specific intent? In other words,
does a prosecutor have to establish that a defendant had knowledge of the official proceeding and intended to obstruct it?
WRAY: Sitting here right now, Congressman, I don't remember the specifics of exactly what the intent requirement is.
NADLER: OK. So you can't say if it matters that a suspect -- well, does it matter that a suspect has knowledge of a crime when he attempts to wave off criminal investigators? In other words, if a suspect has knowledge of a crime and he attempts to wave off criminal investigators, does that constitute obstruction of justice?
WRAY: Well, certainly, the defendant's knowledge and state of mind and intent is a critical element of the offense.
Later that day, the president tweeted this claim -- this claim that we'll put up there. And, in effect, he accuses former Director Comey of giving false testimony. Mr. Comey testified that President Trump urged him to be lenient with Michael Flynn, producing a note in which he quoted the president saying, "I hope you can't -- I hope you can let this go."
In multiple appearances before Congress, Attorney General Sessions appears to have corroborated both the fact of the meeting and the gist of the conversation between the president and Director Comey.
Director Wray, do you have any reason to doubt the testimony of Director Comey or Attorney General Sessions on this point?
WRAY: Congressman, the questions you're asking go directly to what Special Counsel Mueller is investigating. I don't think it would be appropriate for me to be weighing in on that in this setting.
NADLER: You don't think you can say whether you have reason to doubt the veracity of a statement because that might be under investigation?
WRAY: Congressman, you're -- the question you're asking me -- and I appreciate the reasons for the question, but the questions you're asking me are -- would be asking me to weigh in on witnesses in the course of an investigation that's ongoing...
WRAY: ... and I don't think that's appropriate for me to do.
NADLER: I -- fair enough. As -- at your confirmation hearing, you testified that you would, quote, "consider any attempt" -- I'm sorry, "any effort to tamper with Director Mueller's investigation unacceptable and inappropriate, and any such effort would need to be dealt with very sternly and appropriately, indeed."
Since your confirmation, has the president ever contacted you about the special counsel's investigation? Has the Attorney General or anybody else at the White House?
My final question is, the president's tirade ended with one final tweet, where he says your reputation is in tatters. After years of -- well, Director Wray -- and it's up there -- we have heard other veterans of the FBI and the Department of Justice push back against this attack on the reputation of the FBI.
With the time I have -- we haven't heard from you. With the time I have left, will you respond to this tweet by the president? Is the FBI's reputation in tatters?
WRAY: Mr. Chairman, may I have time to answer this question? Because it's something that matters to me a great deal.
GOODLATTE: Yes, go ahead, please.
WRAY: Congressman, there is no shortage of opinions out there. What I can tell you is that the FBI that I see is tens of thousands of agents and analysts and staff, working their tails off to keep Americans safe from the next terrorist attack; gang violence; child predators; spies from Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.
The FBI that I see is tens of thousands of brave men and women who are working as hard as they can to keep people that they will never know safe from harm. And the FBI that I see is reflected in folks like the new class of agents that I swore in at Quantico two days ago: hard- charging, high-integrity people; people like the hostage rescue team and SWAT teams that we send out into all sorts of danger with almost no notice.
The FBI that I see is people -- decent people committed to the highest principles of integrity and professionalism and respect. The FBI that I see is respected and appreciated by our partners in federal, state and local law enforcement; in the intelligence community; by our foreign counterparts, both law enforcement and national security, in something like 200 countries around the globe. That's the FBI that I see.
Now, do we make mistakes? You bet we make mistakes, just like everybody who's human makes mistakes. And, when we make mistakes, there are independent processes, like that of the outside, independent inspector general, that will drive and dive deep into the facts surrounding those mistakes. And, when that independent fact-finding is complete, we will hold our folks accountable, if that's appropriate.
NADLER: It's very fine. Thank you very much. I yield back.
GOODLATTE: The chair recognizes the gentleman from Ohio, Mr. Chabot, for five minutes.
CHABOT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Director Wray, you've mentioned that the I.G., the inspector general,
is investigating matters related, for example, to the Clinton e-mail server scandal, et cetera. But isn't it a fact that the I.G. does not have prosecutorial powers?
WRAY: Well, under certain circumstances, the inspector general works with prosecutors to bring criminal cases.
CHABOT: Well, what about in this case?
WRAY: Well, this is a matter that's under review, at the moment, looking into the facts surrounding all those decisions.
CHABOT: So the bottom line is the I.G. is looking into the matter, investigating it, but has no prosecutorial powers per se at this time?
WRAY: The inspector general does not himself have prosecutorial power, yes.
CHABOT: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. The president of the United States, as the chairman mentioned, recently expressed the opinion that the FBI's reputation was, quote, "in tatters," unquote.
Now, someone who's sat on this committee, the judiciary committee that has oversight of the Justice Department and the FBI, for over 20 years now, such a statement is, at least at first, shocking. But, when you look at a few facts, it's understandable why the president might make such a statement.
A former head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, is put in charge of an important investigation, and who does he pick to be on his team? Well, you'd want people who are experienced and smart and, most importantly, unbiased, because, whatever you do, the result is going to be second- guessed. One side or the other is going to be dissatisfied and critical.
So, above all things, they've got to at least appear to be fair and unbiased. So who does Mueller pick? He picked 16 attorneys -- nine of the 16, more than half, have given money to the Obama campaign or the Clinton campaign or both, and nobody has given a cent to Donald Trump or his campaign.
Does that show a lack of bias? Does that show fairness? I think the American people can decide that for themselves.
And, perhaps even more shocking, we recently learned that one of those supposedly unbiased investigators on the Mueller team was a guy named Peter Strzok. Turns out Strzok was sending out anti-Trump, pro- Clinton messages, so he ultimately got canned from the investigation.
The question is, how did this guy get on your supposedly unbiased team in the first place, when you consider that this is the same guy that had a key position investigating the Hillary Clinton e-mail server scandal, and apparently had a hand in altering the FBI's conclusion that Clinton was grossly negligent, down to "extremely careless," so she could escape prosecution and thus stay in the race against Donald Trump.
And now we learn that the number two guy on Mueller's team, Andrew Weissmann, is just as biased as Strzok. He made an anti-Trump communication to the since-fired Sally Yates, and the depths of this anti-Trump bias on the Mueller team just goes on and on. It's absolutely shocking.
Director Wray, I know all this took place before you took the helm at the FBI, but none other than the president of the United States has said that an organization that most Americans, including myself, hold in the highest esteem, the FBI, is in tatters.
What can you do -- what will you do to restore confidence in the premier law enforcement agency in the world?
WRAY: Congressman, I appreciate the question and the reason for the question. It goes to the heart of whether or not the bureau is following its processes and the rules and the guidelines, and adhering to the independence and objectivity and professionalism that we all come to expect and respect from the FBI.
And I think the best way that I can validate the trust of the American people in the FBI is to ensure that we bring that same level of professionalism and integrity and objectivity and adherence to process in everything we do. As I said at the beginning, I think it is important that we not jump first and ask questions later.
So the second thing that I think can be done is, when there are fair questions to be asked about things like whether or not some of the decisions made in the 2016 investigation were handled appropriately or were subject or based on any kind of improper considerations, rather than have the FBI investigate itself, having an outside inspector general do the investigation and report to all of us on the findings, I think, is the -- one of the best things I can do. And then, based on that information, I won't hesitate to take appropriate action based on what it is he finds.
CHABOT: Thank you.
And I'm almost out of time, but let me ask you, would you as FBI director, for example, ever permit associates of someone under investigation who themselves could also be under investigation to sit in an interview with the accused?
WRAY: Well, I will say this: Having been, as I said to Congressman Nadler, both a line prosecutor a Justice Department official, but then also a defense attorney, that -- that's not my experience as the normal practice.
I'm also, however, reluctant to ever answer questions, as you can appreciate, with a hypothetical about whether I would ever do something, because every investigation is subject to its own unique circumstances.
CHABOT: I certainly understand it, because that's exactly what happened in the so-called investigation of Hillary Clinton. And I yield back my time.
GOODLATTE: The chair recognizes the gentlewoman from California, Ms. Lofgren, for five minutes.
LOFGREN: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, Mr. Director, for being here today. And thanks to you for your leadership of this agency, and to the men and women who work so hard to protect our country and to serve the United States. It's -- we all appreciate it, even though we might have a few questions.
My question -- my first question has to do with cybersecurity. You know, the -- there's a rapidly growing threat of cyber attacks at all levels, federal, state and local, business, personal level. And I was really concerned to learn in November of a report highlighting the FBI's failure to notify multiple government officials that they were the target of a Russian hacking campaign.
LOFGREN: Now, at least according to this report, 500 people were targeted in the past year, including officials as high-profile as the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, the former head of the -- Air Force intelligence. Many of these people still had security clearances or worked for the government.
So I'd like to know -- the FBI was, as I understand it, correct me if I'm wrong -- of these efforts for at least a year, but, I am advised, informed only two of the targets. Can you explain why these individuals had to learn from the Associated Press that they were targets of an aggressive Russian hacking effort?
And do we know if any classified information was stolen? Were any members of Congress or congressional staff a target? And what mechanisms or additional resources need to be put in place so that targeted officials know they're at risk when there's a foreign operation such as this?
WRAY: Well, Congresswoman, I think I'm not comfortable trying to discuss this -- specific victim engagements in a particular investigation, at least in this setting. But I think what I can tell you, which might be helpful, in response is that we have very well- established criteria and policies and procedures for questions of victim notification in cyber matters.
And the questions -- and I probably can't repeat them to you verbatim, but I can give you the gist of them -- the questions go to things like, number one, can we identify the victim, which in a lot of cases is harder than you might think; number two, is the information that we have at that point in the investigation actionable for the victim -- is there something they can do with it, you know, can it -- could sharing the information actually protect somebody, prevent a loss, et cetera?
We also look at whether or not sharing the information at the time that we -- you know, in question would potentially compromise or jeopardize an existing investigation or reveal sources and methods, which is often the case in these kinds of investigations.
LOFGREN: But -- yeah.
WRAY: And the last point I guess I would make is that, when you have a large number of people, it's much easier for us to provide victim notification when we have official or government or corporate accounts, where we can contact the chief information security officer and then they can communicate to all the people who are on that server.
When you talk about Gmail accounts and things like that, it gets a lot harder, because a lot of people's Gmail addresses don't have, you know, Wray -- C-W-R-A-Y, or, you know, Lofgren, or...
LOFGREN: Right. But, for example -- and I assume, if what you're describing is the current practice, when the Democratic National Committee was hacked by the Russians, the FBI contacted an intern. They never contacted the chairman of the DNC. She found out, you know, months later. So, hopefully, those types of procedures have been revised. Do you know that?
WRAY: I think the procedures themselves remain the same, and the procedures themselves, I think, are pretty sound. The question of -- but if you think about what they are, they are questions that the investigators have to ask in each victim notification context.
LOFGREN: Well, let me go -- when we had the Attorney General here recently, we asked -- there's an ongoing effort to hack into the election system. We know that from various reports. And the Attorney General said he -- really, nothing was going on that he hadn't been able to pay -- I'm paraphrasing -- he would say it's really important; we haven't spent enough time on it.
I'm getting the sense that that's true across the government. In fact, we've got systems that were hacked within half an hour at DEF CON by -- state voting systems. What is the FBI doing, relative to preserving the integrity of the voting structure itself for the next election?
WRAY: Mr. Chairman, may -- I see my time -- may I answer that one?
GOODLATTE: Yes (ph).
WRAY: Thank you.
Well, I think the FBI is actually very focused on this subject. It's one of the things that I've tried to insist on, upon arriving. We have a foreign influence task force that we stood up that brings together both our counterintelligence division, our cyber division and our criminal division, as well as some other parts of the bureau.
We are in coordination, through that task force, with DHS, which of course has responsibility for a lot of the election infrastructure, along with states. We are in contact with our foreign partners, because, as you know, efforts to interfere with elections are occurring in other countries, as well, and so, by doing that with our close relationships with our foreign counterparts, we learn more about tradecraft methods and things like that.
So we're acutely focused on looking out for signs of interference in the 2018 or 2020 election cycle.
LOFGREN: If I may, Mr. Chair, I know my time is up, but I hope that there is an effort by the bureau to communicate with state election officers, who oftentimes have been kept in the dark.
And I yield back.
GOODLATTE: The chair recognizes the gentleman from California, Mr. Issa, for five minutes.
ISSA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Director Wray, a couple of questions, one is one that I'm sure you're aware of, and I'm just going to ask it as a "Do you agree?" And it's not hypothetical, but it's nonspecific. Do you agree that persons should not have their assets forfeited without due process and a provable link to criminal activity?
WRAY: Well, Congressman, it's been a while since I looked at the law on asset forfeiture. So I want to be careful...
ISSA: Well, this is a -- this is a constitutional, not a statutory question.
WRAY: Well, I believe that, in the context of asset forfeiture, we should respect the constitution.
ISSA: OK. So it's fair to say that, if somebody has $10,000 in their van, they have it taken from them and they have to sue to get it back, even though they're never charged with a crime, that would be wrong under due process in the Constitution?
WRAY: Well, again, I'm not trying to make this difficult, but I -- you know, to me, asset forfeiture questions raise all kinds of complicated case law questions about due process, et cetera.
What I do believe -- due process and adherence to the Constitution are incredibly important in the asset forfeiture context, as in elsewhere.
ISSA: Thank you, Director.
Now, switching to the matter of Peter Strzok -- and I had a long time working with your folks on the personnel side, over at Oversight, where -- where we oversee a lot of those things.
And I just want to make the record straight, now that you're, in addition to being the chief from a law enforcement standpoint, you're also sort of the ultimate head of H.R. for those tens of thousands of people who are working so hard for us: Is an FBI agent allowed to have a political opinion?
ISSA: Is an FBI agent allowed to communicate that political opinion to their wife or even their mistress?
ISSA: So nothing in a text simply communicating a political opinion would be cause for firing or any other action under the ordinary rules of the FBI or any federal person (ph), correct?
WRAY: I think each question would have to be based on its own circumstances. Certainly, I can imagine situations, as you're describing, where it wouldn't be, and I can imagine situations where it might be.
ISSA: So that brings us to a situation, now, in which an individual is key to the question of whether or not there should be a full de novo review of the FBI's actions as to Hillary Clinton and the decision not to prosecute her, since he was -- he was actively involved in that.
So my question to you is, since it's clear that whatever Peter Strzok did was sufficient to have him relieved -- something that, in the ordinary course of simply communicating a political opinion, would not cause that, and would be inappropriate to relieve somebody simply for having a political opinion -- will you make available to this committee, upon the chairman's obvious request, the ability to see any or all of those 10,000 texts sufficient to understand why this individual was dismissed and how it might be relevant to the question of the objectivity of Director Comey's investigation and conclusions?