Trump lashes out at FBI chief Wray over watchdog report
President Donald Trump on Tuesday lashed out at FBI Director Christopher Wray after the man he chose to lead the bureau backed the findings of an inspector general report that found the investigation into Russian election interference was properly launched.
“I don’t know what report current Director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading, but it sure wasn’t the one given to me. With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men & women working there!” Trump wrote.
Trump’s morning tweet suggested he’s lost confidence in Wray, who he appointed in 2017. But officials at the White House said they did not believe Trump was prepared to fire him because his decision to dismiss his first FBI director, James Comey, resulted in the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller.
Still, the tweet affirmed Trump is irrevocably at odds with Wray, the third person to serve as FBI director under Trump. It underscored his continued frustration at the agency’s leadership, with whom Trump has feuded since the beginning of his presidency.
Trump had cast the highly anticipated inspector general’s report as vindication of his suspicions of the FBI and its decision to launch an investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia.
But following the release of the report, Wray sought to highlight its finding that the investigation was proper.
“I think it’s important that the inspector general found that in this particular instance the investigation was opened with appropriate predication and authorization,” Wray told ABC News hours after the report was released.
Monday’s report by Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz did not find “evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions” to open investigations that initially focused on several Trump campaign advisers.
The 435-page report rebutted Trump’s claims that the FBI illegally spied on his campaign, though it does criticize FBI leaders and employees for how they handled four applications for surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act targeting campaign aide Carter Page.
Trump attempted to claim victory after the report’s release, calling the Russia investigation an “attempted overthrow” and an “embarrassment.”
The criticism mirrors that of Attorney General William Barr, who excoriated the FBI on Monday for launching what he called an “intrusive investigation” into a presidential campaign based on the “thinnest of suspicions.”
The distance between Barr and the inspector general on one of the report’s most critical findings marked a striking contrast and helped to create space for Trump and his defenders to continue to argue that the Russia investigation and the special counsel investigation it spawned were fundamentally flawed. The move is reminiscent of Barr’s actions around the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, when the attorney general sought to frame the results of that investigation in the best light possible for Trump.
CNN has reached out to the White House to ask if Trump has asked Wray to resign.
Officials said they believed it was unlikely Trump would take that step since the last time he pushed out an FBI director, the Justice Department appointed the special prosecutor who could go on to cloud most of Trump’s first term as President.
But those officials acknowledged Trump could act without warning to push Wray out.
Wray’s comments on the side of the FBI following the IG report appear to be part of a larger strategy to defend the organization, due, in part, to FBI officials’ push for Wray to say more in defense of the organization he leads.
The FBI prepared for the public release of the IG report by having Wray record an internal video message for FBI staff and granting rare interviews to the press.
In the internal video message to FBI staff about the report’s findings, Wray said actions need to be taken to address serious issues discovered, according to an FBI official. The internal remarks largely echoed his media comments, an FBI official said.
The FBI director also wrote to the IG vowing to take corrective action and touting the central finding of the report that the FBI’s investigation was properly begun.
Two other FBI officials said the FBI’s preparations for Monday’s release came in part after complaints by senior field agents that the FBI did not respond forcefully enough in defending the bureau from political attacks following the release of the IG report on the Clinton investigation last year.
FBI directors are appointed to 10-year terms in an attempt to avoid political interference.
Trump has frequently found himself at odds with his FBI director. In June, he declined to discuss his level of confidence in Wray, saying “we’ll see how it turns out,” referring to the Justice Department’s investigation into the origins of the Russia probe.
Trump also said his FBI director was “wrong” after Wray testified at a May Senate hearing that it would be “wise” for political operatives to inform his agency about attempts by foreign governments to interfere in US elections.
Trump has long had issues with the leadership of the FBI. He fired then-FBI Director James Comey in May 2017, saying in an interview that he was considering “this Russia thing” when he made the decision. He also publicly chastised Andrew McCabe, who became the acting director of the FBI after Comey was dismissed, because McCabe’s wife ran as a Democrat for a state Senate spot in Virginia with the backing of former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a friend of Hillary Clinton and her family.
The IG report released on Monday firmly concluded that there was no political conspiracy to undermine Trump’s 2016 campaign despite more than two years of conspiracy theories pushed by Trump and his allies that the investigation was designed to foil his presidency. The report accused a former FBI lawyer of altering a document related to the surveillance of Page, but Horowitz did not find that it undermined the overall validity of the surveillance.
CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Paul LeBlanc, Dan Berman, Betsy Klein, Maegan Vazquez, Evan Perez and Josh Campbell contributed to this report.