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FBI Director Testifies Before House Judiciary Committee. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired December 7, 2017 - 11:00   ET

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


ISSA: -- of the objectivity of Director Comey's investigation and conclusions?

WRAY: Well, there's a couple parts to your question, if I might. First, I want to be clear that the individual in question has not been dismissed or disciplined. What happened was -- what...

ISSA: He has not been dismissed, but he's been relieved from the duties he had and he's now...

WRAY: Well, he was...

ISSA: ... he's now in H.R., which...

WRAY: ... he was reassigned -- he was reassigned away from the special counsel investigation, which is different than disciplinary action.

Second, as to the question of access to the text messages, we'd be happy to try to work with the committee on that. I want to be sensitive to that fact that there is an active -- very active outside, independent investigation by the inspector general, and the last thing I want to do and, I think, the last thing this committee would want to do -- would somehow compromise or interfere with that.

So we'll have to go through a process to assess how we can be sensitive to those operational considerations, while at the same time, as we should be, be responsive to Congress and this committee in its oversight responsibility (ph).

GOODLATTE: Would the gentleman yield on that? ISSA: Of course I'd yield to Chairman.

GOODLATTE: I thank the gentleman for yielding.

We have been in communication with the Inspector General. We very much respect the investigation that is taking place there. And we have asked the Department of Justice and, through them, the Federal Bureau of Investigation for all of the 1.2 million documents that have been provided to the inspector general, minus those that relate to any particular on-going grand jury investigation.

Now, I have received back from the assistant attorney general, Mr. Boyd, a letter indicating that they will make a fulsome response to that request. So I would like, in following up with Mr. Issa's question, to hear you

tell us that you will also provide us with that honoring of that fulsome request, because most of those documents that the department has committed to provide are coming from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

WRAY: Sir, and I don't mean to suggest that we wouldn't be fully responsive and cooperative with the committee -- I'm simply saying that we would work with the Justice Department in making sure that we have considered all of the appropriate factors that we need to to make sure that we're not doing something on the -- in terms of unintended consequences with ongoing investigations. But we have no desire to frustrate the very legitimate oversight requests of this committee.

NADLER: Would the chairman yield for a moment?

GOODLATTE: Yes, I yield to the gentleman.

NADLER: Thank you.

I just want to ask the director, do the -- can this kind or does this kind of document requests of the inspector general on an ongoing investigation -- could it interfere with that investigation? Is it proper to respond fulsomely? I mean, what are the limitations here?

WRAY: Well, I think a lot of that is -- requires, as the chairman referenced, us to make sure that we are touching base with the inspector general, since it's his investigation and not ours.

If the inspector general is comfortable with the information being provided and that it's not going to interfere with or impede his investigation, then that's one very, very significant consideration that can be put to the side. So we'll...

NADLER: But if he's not going to abide (ph)...

(CROSSTALK)

WRAY: I can commit that our staff will work with the Justice Department staff and your staff to make sure that we're doing everything we possibly can to be responsive, while at the same time making sure that we're not in some way jeopardizing or compromising an ongoing investigation or revealing something about a -- you know, a grand jury matter or anything like that.

NADLER: We ask for it minus grand jury material. Obviously, it takes some time to do that. The -- Mr. Boyd committed to a date of January 15, and he's going to require your cooperation. So we want to have your assurance that that cooperation in meeting that date will be forthcoming.

We would tend to follow up with further letters on clarifying this. But it's very important that we have this information very quickly. The inspector general is completely cooperative with us in his investigation, but they're not his documents. They are the FBI, the Department of Justice's documents. So the request is not directed at him; it's directed to the department, and we need to have full response.

WRAY: We intend to be fully cooperative with both this committee and the inspector general.

GOODLATTE: I robbed the gentleman from California of a bit of his time. So I'm going to...

NADLER: I have to say I yield back.

(LAUGHTER)

GOODLATTE: I will... ISSA: I'll be brief, Mr. Chairman.

(CROSSTALK)

GOODLATTE: The gentleman is recognized for an additional minute.

ISSA: Thank you.

Director, at this time, as far as you know, you're not asserting or believe there's any privilege as to those documents. Is that correct?

WRAY: Well, I haven't reviewed the however many million documents that...

ISSA: I'm only saying that you -- at this time, you know of no privilege?

WRAY: I'm not aware of it, but I really haven't asked the question yet, to be honest.

ISSA: OK, I appreciate that.

And then, lastly, since -- in the case of Peter Strzok and other statements, because this information was not made available to us at a time in which you predecessor, Mr. Comey, specifically said he was breaking precedent and being open and transparent as to the investigation of Hillary Clinton's taking from government possession documents under the Federal Records Act and classified documents, do you agree that a de novo review, at some point, by someone, is clearly warranted as to whether or not the decision not to prosecute was appropriate?

WRAY: Well, Congressman, I think what I would say to that is there is a -- what I would consider a de novo outside, independent review by the inspector general into whether or not decisions made, including charging or not charging decisions in the matter that you're referring to, were based on any kind of improper considerations or political considerations.

And, depending on what the inspector general finds, there could be any range of possible steps that we or others would have to take in response to those findings. ISSA: So it's not a de novo review by the inspector general, but a review of whether or not impropriety occurred. And, as such, a de novo review of that decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton would be the question?

GOODLATTE: The time of the gentleman has expired.

WRAY: I think I...

GOODLATTE: The director may answer the question.

WRAY: ... yeah, I think I can briefly respond, which is, I think of the inspector general's investigation as de novo in one sense, which is that it's objective, arm's-length, no skin in the game, if you will. But it's -- you're right that the inspector general is not second-guessing prosecutorial decisions and things like that.

However, however, the inspector general is looking at the very important question of whether or not improper political considerations factored into the decision-making. If he were to conclude that that's what happened, then I think, at that point, we're in a situation we have to assess what else might need to be done to un-ring that bell, if you will.

ISSA: Thank you. I yield back.

GOODLATTE: The chair recognizes the gentlewoman from Texas, Mrs. Jackson Lee, for five minutes.

JACKSON LEE: I thank the chairman. I welcome you, Director, and I thank you for your service.

I'm holding in my hand right now the mission of the FBI, which reads, "The mission of the FBI is to protect and defend the United States against terrorists and foreign intelligence threats, to uphold and enforce the criminal laws of the United States, and to provide leadership and criminal justice services to federal, state, municipal and international agencies and partners, and to perform these responsibilities in a manner that is responsive to the needs of the public and is faithful to the Constitution of the United States."

Do you adhere to that mission?

WRAY: Yes, ma'am.

JACKSON LEE: Does that mission include your responding to the political bias and comments of politicians?

WRAY: I do not think it is part of my responsibility to respond to opinions and biases, if they are out there, by politicians.

JACKSON LEE: If -- and forgive me for the time period that I have -- if Director Comey made a statement that there would be no prosecution against the former secretary of state, would that statement have been reviewed by the Department of Justice?

WRAY: Well, Congresswoman, I think that -- how that all -- that whole decision-making was handled...

JACKSON LEE: But is that -- let (ph)...

WRAY: ... is part of what the inspector general is looking at.

JACKSON LEE: ... no, is that the protocol? You indicated that you report to the deputy attorney general; he reports to the attorney general. And so, in the normal protocol, a statement that you would've made, or any other FBI director would've made -- Director Mueller, when he was the FBI director -- reviewed by that protocol.

Is that the likely protocol?

WRAY: Likely protocol, sure.

JACKSON LEE: Let me move on to indicate that it was stated earlier that the FBI -- that the former secretary disclosed top secrets into e-mails -- whether that -- and asked the question whether that should be investigated. The present president disclosed Top Secret classified information to Russian ambassador and foreign minister in the Oval Office.

Is the FBI investigating those disclosures?

WRAY: Congresswoman, I wouldn't confirm or suggest the existence of any ongoing investigation.

JACKSON LEE: Just a few years ago, this committee considered and eventually moved on a obstruction of justice element in an impeachment proceeding. Do you believe -- yes or no: Can a sitting president commit obstruction of justice?

WRAY: Congresswoman, legal questions, especially legal questions regarding impeachment, are not something that I'm equipped to answer in this setting...

JACKSON LEE: This is separate and...

WRAY: ... as an FBI director.

JACKSON LEE: ... this is separate and apart from impeachment. Do you believe that a sitting president can commit an obstruction of justice?

WRAY: That also is a legal question, and I would defer to the lawyers on that one. I'm a now-reformed lawyer as an FBI director.

JACKSON LEE: I understand. Is it your opinion that, if a sitting president commits a crime, then it becomes a non-crime?

WRAY: I'm sorry. I couldn't hear you.

JACKSON LEE: If a sitting president commits a crime, does it become a non-crime?

WRAY: Same answer. JACKSON LEE: Let me move on to the idea of the quote from the president of the United States. And do you believe that the FBI's reputation is in tatters? What impact did that have on the FBI?

And my -- if you would move quickly, I know you gave a long assessment, but what impact would that have on the FBI, if that is a statement made nationally, and also to the world -- that the FBI is in tatters?

WRAY: Congresswoman, the agents, analysts and staff of the FBI are big boys and girls. We understand that we will take criticism from all corners, and we're accustomed to that.

I believe, personally, based on what I've seen, that our reputation with our counterparts in law enforcement, federal, state and local; our counterparts in the intelligence community; our counterparts around the world; the communities that we serve; the victims that we protect; the judges we appear before; the scientists we interact with in the laboratory services space, for example...

JACKSON LEE: I have another question.

WRAY: ... my experience has been that our reputation is quite good.

JACKSON LEE: Thank you very much.

I want it to (ph) be assured to the American people that Andrew Weissmann and Peter Strzok, who were removed from their posts -- that that will not sabotage Bob Mueller's investigation to Trump campaign's collusion with Russia -- their removal.

WRAY: I'm sorry. I...

JACKSON LEE: That their removal -- Peter Strzok and Mr. Weissmann -- will not sabotage Mueller's investigation into Russian collusion -- their removal from the investigation.

WRAY: I'm not aware of any effort by anyone to sabotage -- or less, even -- Special Counsel Mueller's investigation.

JACKSON LEE: Thank you. Let me ask the question on the black identity extremists. You indicated, or we have had some conversations -- let me indicate to you that a report that was done August 14th, 2017 said that, during the same period of this report, they found that right-wing extremists were behind nearly twice as many incidents, 115, and just over a third of these incidents were foiled, than those who might be considered Islamists or might be considered others.

There is a black extremist identity report. Again, I ask the question, would you see that that report be clarified? And would you take note of the fact that the convictions dealing with violence are more for the -- looking for my chart -- are more dealing with Islamists and left-wing and less for right-wing?

So right-wing extremists are not being prosecuted. Black identity extremists, as declared by the FBI, are in fact subjected to a report. And in -- and, if I might say, a FBI that is not diverse, that I know that we would like to work on to make diverse -- but they are not being prosecuted the way -- right-wing.

Right-wing has the lowest amount of prosecutions in the United States; percent of domestic terror incidents involving federal prosecution, the right wing is the lowest. The left wing is prosecuted 100 percent. Can you explain that?

GOODLATTE: The time of -- the time of the gentlewoman has expired. The director is permitted to answer the question.

WRAY: Congresswoman, I'd have -- I'd have to look at the statistics that you saw. I can tell you that we have our -- in our domestic terrorism program, that the last time I looked, we have about 50 percent more white supremacist -- what -- the category that we would call white supremacist investigations than we do in the black identity extremist category.

The other point I would make is that, in all of these contexts in the domestic terrorism arena -- that we only investigate if there are three things: one, federal criminal activity -- credible evidence of federal crime; two, credible information suggesting an attempt to use force or violence; and three, those things in furtherance of a political or social goal.

If we don't have that, we don't investigate -- it doesn't matter whether they're right-wing, left-wing or any other wing.

JACKSON LEE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'd like a report back on that question, please. Thank you very much.

GOODLATTE: The gentleman from Iowa, Mr. King, is recognized for five minutes.

KING: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, Director, for your testimony here today and your service to our country.

I -- a number of curiosities I come here with this morning, as all of us do. And one of them is that, in the FBI interview and investigation of General Flynn -- are there -- are there notes from those interviews, do you know?

WRAY: Number one, I don't know. But, beyond that, I wouldn't want to comment on a ongoing investigation being run by the special counsel.

KING: And, in a normal circumstance like that, would you expect there to be notes in any other case?

WRAY: It is our normal practice to memorialize interviews.

KING: And do so by notes?

WRAY: Well, it usually gets reflected in an FBI -- what's called an FBI 302. How agents go from the process of the spoken conversation to the 302 varies. And then there are other settings where it's a different kind of format. KING: But, when an agent sits someone down for that kind of interview, notes would be normal. In most cases, would there also be an audio tape recorded?

WRAY: Actually, I think an audio tape would be unusual.

KING: Or a videotape would fit that same category as unusual.

WRAY: Likewise, also unusual.

KING: Thank you. And -- but you don't know whether there are -- they are available for General Flynn? I bring this up because of the interview of Hillary Clinton.

And, when we interviewed some of the members of the former administration that were familiar with the interview -- the matter, we'll use their word and the -- let's call it now the investigation of Hillary Clinton -- and we learned here in this room that there were no notes available to us, that there were no audio and no video available to us, and in fact they had not been made available to the attorney general, Loretta Lynch, and neither had they been made available, or at least reviewed, by former Director Comey.

And it was curious to me that a heavy decision of the -- one of the highest investigations in the history of this country -- the people who made the decision on it didn't review the materials. They just simply received the briefing of the people that they had appointed to do the investigation.

I guess I'll ask you -- you're going to tell me you don't have an opinion on that. Would you conduct similar investigations in a similar manner? Doesn't -- wouldn't that send off an alarm bell to you, if that were going on within your department today?

WRAY: Well, I think what I would say is that I think investigations are best conducted by taking appropriate memorialization of an interview. What I will also say is that, in the particular investigation, I think your question goes to whether or not the handling of the investigation was skewed or tainted in some way by improper political considerations. And I think that's what the outside inspector general is looking at, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he finds.

KING: And I -- and I believe that the question's already been asked about the principals that were in the room during that investigation, and (ph) one is counsel, and -- at the same time being a subject of the investigation.

I'll pass that along and put some more information out here before this committee. In October of 2015, President Obama referenced the lack of intent on the part of Hillary Clinton -- that she wouldn't jeopardize national security, would never intend to do so.

That was October of 2015. April of 2016, he made a similar statement that Hillary Clinton was an outstanding secretary of state; she would never intentionally put America in any kind of a jeopardy. We also noticed that the language has been moved from "extreme carelessness" -- or, excuse me, from "gross negligence" to "extreme carelessness." That "carelessness" was also language that President Obama used in his public discussions of the matter.

Now, I'm going to make the point here that it looks to me that the "get out of jail free" card that Hillary Clinton received is rooted clear back in Barack Obama, in his introduction of the word intent, or lack of intent, as a requirement for 18 USC 793(f). And that's been brought up here.

And so I'd ask you again -- surely you've examined the definition and the distinction between "extreme carelessness" and also -- "extreme carelessness" and the "gross negligence" that's within the statute. You're really going to tell us today that you don't have an opinion on that distinction?

WRAY: "Gross negligence" is the language in the statute, I believe. But I believe, also, that almost anybody who grabbed a thesaurus would say that "gross negligence" and "extremely careless" are pretty darn close to each other.

I will also say that the -- whether or not the handling -- including the handling of the statement that Director Comey issued -- is exactly what the inspector general is investigating, and, I think, as he should. It's better that the FBI not -- FBI not investigate itself on this, and I think that's what the inspector general is doing. So that would be my response to that question.

KING: And I thank you. And it does do a clarification to your earlier response, and I appreciate that.

I'd like to follow up with this: that there's a report that there are investigations going on on 27 potential leakers within the FBI. And I want to also ask if the unmasking that was ordered by the executive branch of government that took place shortly before the election -- I'll say September, October of 2016, and on throughout the transition period until the inauguration of -- and even beyond, perhaps -- of President Trump -- has any investigative committee in Congress had access to the full list of those unmasking requests? And how much of that is classified?

WRAY: Congressman, I don't know what access committees have had to unmasking requests -- specific committees. I'd be happy to have my staff take a look at that. I will say that unmasking requests get made not just by parts of the intelligence community, but by -- congressional committees themselves often ask for unmasking, so that they can digest the information.

A lot of times, concerns -- legitimate concerns about unmasking are really almost more about, to me, a problem that I take very seriously, which is leaks of information. And that's something that -- we have, now, a dedicated unit, since I've taken over, that's focused specifically on that.

We've also recently reissued -- not reissued, issued -- a new media policy that clamps down and tightens up the rules about interaction with the media inside the FBI. And that's something that I think we take very, very, very seriously. KING: Well, I thank you. I'll just say, in conclusion, we know as much about the conversation on the Phoenix tarmac between President Clinton and Loretta Lynch as we do about the interview of Hillary Rodham Clinton within the FBI.

GOODLATTE: Time of the gentleman has expired.

KING: Thank you. I yield back.

GOODLATTE: The chair recognizes the gentleman from Tennessee, Mr. Cohen, for five minutes.

COHEN: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Director Wray, we in Memphis have been blessed with good FBI agents, and I believe the FBI has an outstanding reputation, and has, probably, other than some flaws with J. Edgar Hoover, historically had a great reputation.

In Memphis, I had a situation where there was a county employee named Mickey Wright, who was murdered. The FBI worked on that case and saw to it that justice was found, and he got a life sentence. And it was the FBI that did that.

They recently arrested a man named Castelo -- Lorenzo Castelo -- and found -- got him for 15 pounds of meth, which is the drug you ought to be looking at -- drugs like opioids and meth and crack and heroin, not so much cannabis -- and $400,000, and had 10 people arrested and convicted.

And they also got Larry Bates, who swindled a lot of people in church from -- out of millions and millions -- $68 million, and got him 22 years in jail. So the FBI's done a great job.

After the president said, which I disagree with, that the FBI was in tatters, Director Comey tweeted, "I must let the American people know the truth. The FBI's honest. The FBI's strong, and the FBI is and always will be independent." Did you welcome his tweet, and do you agree with it?

WRAY: Well, I believe that description of the FBI aligns with my own description. As my folks would tell you, I'm not really a Twitter guy. I've never tweeted, don't have any plans to tweet and don't really engage in tweeting.

COHEN: You've been at the FBI long enough to know the reputation of previous directors. What was the reputation of Director Comey within the agents of the FBI?

WRAY: Well, my experience with Director Comey -- it was that, when I worked with him, which was back in the early 2000s -- was that he was a smart lawyer, a dedicated public servant and somebody that I enjoyed working with. We haven't stayed in as much touch over the last several years, and of course, there's now the ongoing investigation, but my experiences have all been positive. COHEN: Do you know the reputation of Director Mueller within FBI agents, in FBI lore (ph)?

WRAY: My experience has been that Director Mueller is very well- respected within the FBI.

COHEN: When you were interviewed by President Trump, and you were interviewed by President Trump before you were appointed, was that -- is that not the case?

WRAY: Yes. Not exclusively, but yes.

COHEN: What questions did he ask you?

WRAY: My recollection is the conversations were more about my background, and in particular, we talked a lot about my desire to join the war on -- counter terror, as somebody who had been in the Justice Department and in FBI headquarters on the day of 9/11 itself, and having met -- I talked a lot about my interaction with the victims of 9/11 in my last law enforcement experience and my desire to return to public service to keep people safe.

COHEN: He didn't ask you any questions about Russia or about Mr. Comey or Mr. Mueller, or any other questions like that at all?

WRAY: No.

COHEN: Good. Very good.

The FBI concentrates on situations that presently are a threat to United States, or to safety of the public. Is that correct?

WRAY: Yes.

COHEN: So the issues concerning the current president would be more important to you than the issues concerning the person who he defeated, who is now in -- not in office. Would that be an accurate assessment?

WRAY: Well, I'm reluctant to try to compare one matter to another in that way. What I would tell you is that we take any effort to interfere with our election very seriously. I take any effort to mishandle classified information very seriously.

COHEN: Well, thank you.

Benjamin Franklin said that he gave the American people a republic, if you can keep it. You are the heir to the legacy of Griffin Bell, having worked at King & Spalding. And you have an excellent reputation, if you can keep it. You will be tested. I feel you will rise to the task, but you will be tested.

I yield back the balance of my time.

GOODLATTE: Chair thanks the gentleman.

Recognize the gentleman from Ohio, Mr. Jordan, for five minutes.

JORDAN: Thank you. Director, was Agent Peter Strzok --

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. You've been watching FBI Director Christopher Wray testifying before the House Judiciary Committtee, the first time he's speaking out publicly since the president of the United States accused the FBI on Twitter of being in tatters, and the worst in history. The FBI director offering a robust, strong defense of the bureau before the committee today.

We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.