FBI Director Christopher Wray will appear before the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the “politicization” of the federal government, where he’ll face some of his most ardent critics — including at least one member who has cosponsored a bill to impeach him.
Wray’s appearance comes after Chairman Jim Jordan issued a subpoena in connection with a withdrawn FBI memo related to extremism in the Catholic Church, but the hearing is expected to touch on many other topics. Here’s what might come up, based on conversations with Republicans and Democrats.
The View From Republicans
“Fireworks,” Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La. told Semafor when asked what the public can expect from Republicans. “He’s got a lot to answer for.”
Committee members are expected to grill Wray on Hunter Biden’s plea deal to resolve tax issues and a gun charge after two IRS officials claimed the Justice Department slow-walked the investigation (the Trump-appointed Delaware prosecutor overseeing the case, David Weiss, recently disputed some of their claims). The committee also plans to question Wray on special counsel John Durham’s report, which criticized the FBI’s probe into the 2016 Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. said many Republican committee members are interested in bringing up the court case that recently resulted in a federal judge blocking the Biden administration from communicating with certain social media companies about preventing misinformation.
Jordan on Tuesday penned a letter to the House Appropriations Committee calling for eliminating funding for a new FBI building and examining potential locations outside the D.C. area. (Jordan has suggested moving the bureau headquarters not to Maryland or Virginia but to Alabama.)
The View From Democrats
One Democratic aide speculated that it would be a “hearing of unfounded grievances.”
Expect Democrats to play defense by framing the hearing as a vehicle to defend former President Donald Trump and delegitimize investigations into domestic extremists. There will be a push to highlight Republicans’ growing effort to defund federal law enforcement agencies, which has become more relevant as some Republicans float the idea of using the Holman Rule to zero out specific government workers’ wages.
Republicans also aren’t the only ones with concerns about the FBI’s treatment of activists. Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo. told Semafor she’ll be asking Wray about the FBI’s handling of protesters and referenced a report about the agency hiring a media surveillance firm that labeled activists “threat actors” in 2015. “I am an activist from the movement,” she said.
Facts First USA, the progressive outfit run by David Brock, said it plans to do rapid response to the hearing to counter the notion that Wray, who was appointed by Trump to lead the bureau in 2017, and Weiss would lead a biased investigation into Biden’s son. “Jordan attacking federal law enforcement is nothing new, he’s spent almost the last ten years crying wolf about the FBI and DOJ,” a new memo circulated by the group reads.
The View From the FBI
Wray will use his opening remarks to champion the work of the FBI’s nearly 40,000 employees on everything from countering drug cartels trafficking fentanyl to investigations into Chinese government attempts to steal trade secrets. “The work the men and women of the FBI do to protect the American people goes way beyond the one or two investigations that seem to capture all the headlines,” he will say, according to an excerpt of his prepared remarks.
But don’t expect Wray to say too much about the federal classified documents case against Trump, given that it’s in the purview of the special counsel’s office. The Justice Department generally avoids commenting on ongoing investigations or cases.
Room for Agreement
There may be some rare consensus around the basic concept of reforming Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which will expire at the end of the year if Congress does not reauthorize it. The controversial program permits the intelligence agencies to collect communications data on foreign suspects abroad without a warrant, but also results in incidental collection on Americans who are in touch with those foreigners.
Democrats and Republicans have concerns about the government’s potential overreach that could yield a deal but some on the right have suggested the program be done away with entirely based on their lack of faith in the FBI to fairly run it. Gaetz introduced a resolution Tuesday calling on Congress to allow the program to expire.