House Republicans unloaded a barrage of criticism directed toward FBI Director Christopher Wray Wednesday, outlining a litany of complaints while Wray testified before the House Judiciary Committee.
House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan opened the hearing launching into a wide array of attacks on the FBI, from allegations the bureau allowed social media companies to suppress the Hunter Biden laptop story in 2020 to claims FBI whistleblowers have been retaliated against to its handling of threats on school boards, a since-withdrawn memo from the bureau’s Richmond field office that focused on extremism in the Catholic Church.
Jordan, an Ohio Republican, has made the FBI a central focus of his panel’s investigative work, and has set out to prove that the agency has been weaponized against conservatives – with Wray being a top target. The hearing comes as House Republicans have continued to defend former President Donald Trump and accuse the DOJ and FBI of carrying out a two-tiered system of justice, with many of the former president’s fiercest allies sitting opposite of Wray on Wednesday.
Jordan said that he opposed funding the FBI with a new headquarters or reauthorizing FISA 702, which allows the government to obtain communications to track foreign terrorist threats. Jordan said that he hoped Democrats would “work with us in the appropriations process to stop the weaponization of the government against the American people and in this double standard that exists now in our justice system.”
Democrats responded by arguing that the hearing itself was entirely political and that Republicans were trying to protect Trump.
“For Republicans, this hearing is little more than performance art. It is an elaborate show designed with only two purposes in mind: to protect Donald Trump from the consequences of his actions, and to return him to the White House in the next election,” New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, the committee’s top Democrat, said Wednesday.
“House Republicans will attack the FBI for having had the audacity to treat Donald Trump like any other citizen. The strategy is simple, really. When in doubt, Chairman Jordan investigates the investigators. The FBI dared to hold Trump accountable, so Republicans must discredit them at all costs,” Nadler added.
In his opening remarks, Wray encouraged committee members to look at the “sheer breadth and impact of the work” the FBI does, which, he will say, “goes way beyond the one or two investigations that seem to capture all the headlines.”
Wray’s opening statement highlighted the bureau’s successes over the past year, including the arrest of more than “20,000 violent criminals and child predators,” the “well over 300 investigations targeting the leadership” of drug cartels that traffic fentanyl and other narcotics across the southern border, and the “thousands of active investigations we now have into the Chinese government’s efforts to steal our most precious secrets, rob our businesses of their ideas and innovation, and repress freedom of speech right here in the United States.”
Some of the questions Republicans plan to ask, according to sources familiar with the hearing preparations, will center on special counsel John Durham’s recent report that concluded the FBI should have only launched a preliminary, but not full, investigation into connections between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. Durham appeared before the committee last month.
Allegations that Catholic Americans were targeted by the FBI and questions over whether a Justice Department strategy to address threats against teachers and school officials was abused to target conservative parents are also expected to come up during the hearing, the sources said.
The FBI’s alleged role in censoring free speech will also be a focal point. The committee released on Monday a new report, obtained first by CNN, alleging the FBI participated in a flawed effort to stop Russian disinformation at the behest of a Ukrainian intelligence agency that instead ensnared authentic American accounts – even a verified Russian-language US State Department account.
The report was a key committee step in their investigation into whether the federal government played a role in censoring speech online, and comes as Republicans continue to attack the Biden administration’s work with social media platforms, which initially ramped up over intervention on stories about Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Another element that Jordan has long touted are the allegations of what he claims are “dozens” of whistleblowers who serve as the basis for his committee’s assertions that the FBI and Justice Department have become increasingly politicized. But the first individuals who sat for closed-door interviews with Jordan’s subcommittee earlier this year, including two of the whistleblowers who testified at a hearing in May, became an early flashpoint in the panel’s investigation, with Democrats raising questions about their legitimacy as whistleblowers and the credibility of their testimony.
At least three self-described FBI whistleblowers who have previously testified before the committee had their claims called into question.
Jordan has previously subpoenaed the FBI and other agencies for information relating to each of these topics.
Wray has previously responded to allegations of politicization.
“The message that I have tried to communicate since day one at the FBI is that we’re going to not just do the right thing, but do it in the right way. That we’re going to follow the facts, wherever they lead, no matter who likes it,” he told a separate congressional committee in April.
“And the reality, the unfortunate reality of the kind of work we do is that there’s always going to be somebody who doesn’t like the outcome of what we do. That’s – that just – it comes with the territory,” Wray said, noting that the number of Americans applying to join the FBI “has actually gone up significantly,” since he took over the bureau.
Jordan is also pushing to strip the bureau of funding for a new headquarters unless it relocates to Huntsville, Alabama, and laid out on Tuesday a series of other budget cuts to the FBI that he wants the House Appropriations committee to make, CNN reported Tuesday.
In response to Jordan’s proposed cuts, an FBI spokesperson told CNN that President Joe Biden’s 2024 budget “includes mission critical resources to equip the FBI to address persistent and evolving threats. Any reductions to the FBI’s budget would be detrimental to the support the FBI provides to the American people.”
The spokesperson added that the 2022 appropriations bill, signed into law last year, directed that the new FBI headquarters be located in Greenbelt, Maryland; Landover, Maryland; or Springfield, Virginia. The spokesperson said that “there are numerous operational reasons to keep FBI headquarters in the national capital region.”
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.