WASHINGTON – FBI Director Christopher Wray offered a stirring defense of the agency before a House panel Thursday in wake of rebukes from President Trump who asserted days ago that the bureau’s agency was in “tatters” and called its reputation for impartiality into question.
“It is the honor of my life to lead the FBI,” Wray told the House Judiciary Committee, the first time he has addressed Trump’s criticism in public. “There is no finer institution than the FBI and no finer people who work there.”
Wray’s anticipated testimony came minutes after the Republican chairman of the panel launched into a scathing critique of the bureau, suggesting that the removal of a top counter-intelligence official from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election amounted to “insider bias” against President Trump.
“The FBI’s reputation has been called into question,” Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte said, opening an oversight hearing. “You, Director Wray, have a unique opportunity to repair the damage.”
Justice Department officials acknowledged last week that FBI agent Peter Strzok, a top counter-intelligence official, was abruptly reassigned earlier this year from special counsel Robert Mueller team investigating Russia’ interference in the 2016 election. Strzok, who also helped run the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of State, was moved to the bureau’s human resources office.
His transfer came after Justice’s inspector general discovered Strzok and another FBI official previously assigned to Mueller’s team, Lisa Page, had exchanged communications critical of President Trump.
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Trump and his allies have jumped on the news in an attempt to discredit special counsel Mueller’s investigation, which is also looking into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and possible obstruction of justice by the president and his associates.
Last weekend, Trump said on Twitter that the bureau’s reputation “is in Tatters – worst in History!”
Earlier this week, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes directed his staff to prepare a contempt of Congress resolution against Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for “hiding” the agent’s alleged political bias against Trump.
A spokesman for Mueller said last week that Strzok was removed from the Russia inquiry “immediately” after the special counsel learned of the allegations. Page had completed her detail to Mueller’s inquiry before the office was made aware of the allegations.
The communications came to the attention of the inspector general during an ongoing inquiry into the handling of the Clinton email investigation by Justice and the FBI.
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