FBI Director Chris Wray will step into the public eye on Thursday for the first time since President Donald Trump disparaged the agency last weekend as “in tatters.”
Appearing publicly before the House Judiciary Committee, Wray can expect to be questioned by lawmakers about the insult, as well as other sensitive issues including the integrity of the special counsel Russia probe and the laws around obstruction of justice, committee aides said.
The hearing, a standard oversight appearance for the FBI director that was announced last week, has taken on new significance in recent days.
Trump on Sunday tweeted that the FBI’s reputation was “in tatters” and the “worst in history,” seizing on reports about possible bias from a former top bureau official.
There has been no official response to the tweet from the FBI, but in a message sent across the agency Monday morning, Wray praised the bureau’s work and told staff that they should “expect — and welcome — people asking tough questions.”
“We find ourselves under the microscope each and every day — and rightfully so. We do hard work for a living,” Wray said, not mentioning the President specifically.
Trump’s contempt mounted over the weekend after news broke that special counsel Robert Mueller had removed one of the FBI’s top Russian counterintelligence experts from his team of investigators after an internal investigation found messages he sent that could be interpreted as showing political bias for Hillary Clinton and against President Donald Trump.
Peter Strzok, who led the investigation of the Clinton email server as the No. 2 official in the FBI’s counterintelligence division, left the Mueller team this past summer, multiple sources said.
In a statement Wednesday, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte, said he was “very troubled by the recent controversy.”
Meanwhile, Democrats are planning a “heavy focus” on the topic of obstruction of justice, according to an aide, after Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said Sunday that her Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election was “beginning to see the putting together of a case of obstruction of justice” by Trump.
While Russian election interference has in the past consumed the debate at hearings attended by the FBI, Wray has used his testimony to sound the alarm on other pressing bureau interests, among them cybersecurity and the effort to renew foreign surveillance laws.