Return to Transcripts main page


Live Coverage of the Senate Confirmation Hearing for the FBI Director Nominee. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 12, 2017 - 10:00   ET


SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: And I know well how you were a determined senator to get things done and represent your people well.

[10:00:00] So welcome to the committee, and you may proceed.

FMR. SEN. SAM NUNN (D), GEORGIA: Thank you very much, Chairman Grassley and Senator Feinstein, and my former colleagues Senator Hatch and Senator Leahy and other members of the Judiciary Committee. It's a great honor to appear before this committee today for the purpose of introducing Christopher Wray, the president's nominee to be the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

History does seem to rhyme. In 1977, I introduced Judge Griffin Bell to this Committee, strongly recommending him to be confirmed as Attorney General. Like today, it was a challenging for the Department of Justice, as well as for the FBI.

I described Judge Bell, then, as a man noted for his quick mind, his candor, his integrity and his independence. Years later in May 2003, Judge Bell contacted me, I was out of the Senate at that stage, praising Chris Wray as a rising star. And he suggested that I recommend him to my former Senate colleagues as a terrific choice to be confirmed to head the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice.

Since that time, I have followed Chris's career in and out of government and I've satisfied myself, fully, that my support for Chris in 2003 was well placed. I can assure this Committee that Chris embodies the same traits that enabled Griffin Bell to rebuild public confidence in the Department of Justice -- quickness of mind, candor, integrity and Independence.

A couple of questions -- what is the basis of my confidence in Chris? And Senator Feinstein, I hope to address some of your questions in answering that question I pose. From his service as Assistant United States Attorney in Atlanta in 1997, where Chris worked with the FBI in the trenches of Federal Criminal investigations and prosecutions, to 2001 when he served as then Deputy Attorney General, Larry Thompson's, Principal Deputy.

Chris has been a leader in helping guide the Department of Justice, including the FBI. After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Chris worked tirelessly with the Justice Department Leadership, newly appointed FBI Director Mueller, as well as other senior FBI officials, to respond to the attacks and to help restructure the department to enable it to more effectively prevent future acts of terrorism.

Chris also helped oversee other Department of Justice priorities, including the Project Safe Neighborhoods Initiative. And he was instrumental in forming the department's Corporate Fraud Task force. In 2003, at age 36, as I mentioned, Chris was nominated by President Bush to lead the Justice Department's Criminal Division.

The Senate unanimously confirmed Chris for this position. Chris demonstrated that the Senate's confidence in him was justified by capably overseeing what are now two critically important divisions at the department; the Criminal Division and the National Security Division. In recent years, I have observed Chris Wray close up in his leadership role at King and Spalding where he heads the Special Matters Team, incidentally, also started by Judge Bell. In private practice, Chris came to be regarded very quickly as one of the most skillful investigative lawyers in the country.

Mr. Chairman, and Senator Feinstein, and Members of the Committee, Chris Wray possesses an unwavering commitment to the Rule of law. He has a proven track record of following the facts and the law, independent of favor or influence. Chris commands the respect and admiration of lawyers and judges and all who have observed his conduct and his record.

Chris understands that the FBI and the Department of Justice owe loyalty to the Constitution, our laws, and our nation and not to any particular office holder. He has demonstrated his commitment to these fundamental principles be upheld at the Department of Justice. No one is better able to attest to that than former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, who worked directly with Chris.

I would like to read one paragraph from a recent letter endorsing Chris's nomination that Larry Thompson sent to Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member Feinstein. And I quote Larry Thompson. "I've had the chance during my career to work with men and women who have served at the Department of Justice in Democratic and Republican administrations alike. I have witnessed them handling the most sensitive investigations and matters imaginable.

[10:05:00] I can tell, firsthand, that I've not worked with, or seen, an individual with a keener sense of the department's mission and the need for the department's business to be conducted free from favor, influence or partisanship," end quote.

My second question, why is Chris Wray's timely confirmation so important to the FBI and to our nation? If confirmed, I have complete confidence that Chris will follow the facts and the law with fairness, with thoroughness, with intelligence and objectivity wherever that path may lead.

Every member of this committee knows how important the job of FBI Director is to our nation, particularly during challenging times. History tells us that among it's many other important tasks, we rely on the Department of Justice and the FBI to serve as a powerful check on the executive branch, including the president, and even on occasion, a check on itself.

This has been made clear in the 1972 Watergate investigation, the 1986 Iran-Contra investigation, the 1990s Whitewater investigation and the early 2000 NSA domestic surveillance episode. Chairman Grassley, as you pointed out, in all of these challenges, sustained thorough congressional oversight is absolutely essential for our nation.

What we ask of the men and women of the FBI is enormous. Keeping our nation safe, upholding our laws, investigating lawbreakers, and yes, acting as a check on the most powerful and the most connected. The FBI deserves a permanent director so they can accomplish these tasks with our nation's full confidence.

There's too much at stake to allow this nomination to stand idle. Chris Wray is the leader of integrity the bureau needs at this critical moment. And I thank you, Mr. Chairman, Senator Feinstein and members of this committee for moving forward, expeditiously, on this nomination. My bottom line, I am confident that in meeting day-to-day pressures as well as in periods of enormous consequences, Chris Wray will devote every ounce of his intellect, his skills and his sound judgment to protecting the American people and upholding our constitutional principles. Mr. Chairman, Senator Feinstein, and members of the committee, I strongly urge the committee, and the Senate, to confirm Chris Wray as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And I thank you for letting me appear today with these words. Thank you very much.

GRASSLEY: And we thank you for your appearance and what you have said about our nominee and, particularly, to get it done quickly. We thank you very much. Yes, you may.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Mr. Chairman, I remember very well Senator Nunn's testimony of Griffin Bell. I've served here with 379 individual U.S. senators. Sam Nunn is one of the absolute best I've ever served with. We've been dear friends. We sat near each other on the Senate floor. I learned a lot from him.

Every experience with him was great, except the one time we were in a darkened room and the SWAT team came in firing live ammunition around us, but that's a different story. But it's an honor to have you here, Sam. I'm delighted to see you. Please give my best to Colleen.

NUNN: Thank you. Thank you, Senator Leahy, very much.

GRASSLEY: Thank you, Senator. Before you're seated, I think save you two or three seconds. I'd like to give the oath now. Do you affirm that the testimony you're about to give before the committee will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

WRAY: I do.

GRASSLEY: Thank you very much. I think that I more or less introduced you in my opening comments. So I think now, whatever time you take for the usual thing is for a statement, but also is quite usual in this committee that any introductions you want to make, you can appropriately make those. That's your decision.


GRASSLEY: Proceed.

WRAY: Mr. Chairman, Senator Feinstein, members of the committee, thank you for the privilege of appearing before you today.

I also want to thank Senator Nunn for that, really, very kind introduction.

[10:10:02] There's no way I could contemplate undertaking an endeavor like this without the love and support of my family. And with me here today is my wife, Helen; both of our kids, Caroline (ph) and Tripp (ph); my parents Gilda (ph) and Cecil Wray; my sister Katie Bachman (ph); my nice, Maggie; my brother-in-law and sister-in-law Jason and Kate Kleitanic (ph) and two of their children, Amelia and Clark (ph).

A commitment like this affects the whole family. And I have no words to adequately express my gratitude to all of them.

I'm honored by the president to be nominated to lead the FBI, and I'm humbled by the prospect of working alongside the outstanding men and women of the bureau. Time and time again, often when the stakes are highest, they have proven their unshakeable commitment to protecting Americans, upholding our Constitution and our laws, and demonstrating the virtues of the FBI motto, "Fidelity, Bravery and Integrity."

Former Attorney General and Judge Griffin Bell, who you heard Senator Nunn invoke several times and who I had the great pleasure to work with quite a bit early in my career, often used to say that it's amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit. And I think in my experience, the men and women of the FBI demonstrate the limitless potential of that saying day after day in the way they tackle the mission.

While the FBI has justly earned its reputation as the finest law enforcement agency in the world, its special agents, analysts, and support staff more often than not operate largely out of public view. They toil at great risk to themselves and at great sacrifice by their families. But they happily defer individual recognition because they believe that the principles they serve are much larger than themselves.

I feel very fortunate to have been able to witness that kind of selfless and inspiring commitment first-hand throughout my career in public service. As a line prosecutor, I learned a great deal from working with brave FBI agents on everything from bank robberies to public corruption, from kidnapping to financial fraud. Those agents are my friends to this day, and they taught me a lot about what it means to play it straight and to follow the facts wherever they may lead.

I continued my career in public service in the summer of 2001 by moving to Washington to work at the Justice Department with my friend and mentor, then-Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, who you also heard Senator Nunn reference. After 9/11, I witnesses again first- hand the FBI's extraordinary capabilities as the people there worked around the clock and moved heaven and earth to try to ensure that horrific attacks like those that occurred on September 11th never happen again.

I know from up close, and I sleep better because of I know, that the horror of 9/11 has never faded from the FBI's collective memory. The bureau has never grown complacent and continues to work tirelessly every day to protect all Americans.

As head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, I again saw countless examples of the FBI's unflagging pursuit of justice, free and independent of any favor or influence. From counterterrorism and counter-espionage, to the then rapidly escalating threat of cyber crime; from human trafficking to public corruption and financial fraud, I worked with and learned from the men and women of the FBI who put it all on the line to make our streets safer and our lives better.

If I am given the honor of leading this agency, I will never allow the FBI's work to be driven by anything other than the facts, the law, and the impartial pursuit of justice, period, full stop. My loyalty is to the Constitution and to the rule of law. Those have been my guideposts throughout my career and I will continue to adhere to them no matter the test.

There is no doubt, as this committee knows, that our country faces grave threats.

[10:15:03] As lots of other people have noticed, America's law enforcement and intelligence agencies have essentially to pitch a perfect game every day, while those who would inflict harm on us just have to hit once to advance their aims.

I consider the FBI director's most important duty to ensure that nothing distracts the selfless patriots at the FBI from the mission. In conclusion, I pledge to be the leader that the FBI deserves and to lead an independent bureau that will make every American proud.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Senator Feinstein, I look forward to answering the committee's questions.

GRASSLEY: Before my first 10 minute starts, we're going to have 10 minute rounds just in case nobody -- came late and didn't hear what I said about that. There are two votes scheduled at 12:30. Senator Feinstein and I had a short conversation before the meeting and I asked if she thought we could get done by 12:30. She said we hope so, but, obviously, we're going to let people go as long on their questions as they want to.

But I would ask people to think in terms of people chairing the committee so we don't lose the whole 45 minutes while we're having votes. So think that in mind. My first series of questions are going to seem, maybe very softball, and they probably are softball. But I think that they're very important to every member of this committee, particularly, when they have an administration that says that Democrats can't get answers to their questions when they do their oversight work or even 30 Republicans that aren't chairman of committees that can't get answers to their questions and things like the role of whistle blowers.

That may not sound like the stuff that is basic to your job, but it's basic to the Constitutional principle we have of separation of powers and the Constitutional role of Congress. So the first one, we've heard a lot about the need for an FBI to show independence, you just heard what Senator Feinstein said about that, and also for the FBI to make decisions free of political pressure or influence.

So I'll just ask a very broad question and let you share your thoughts on this subject, what is your view on the independence of the FBI, generally, but, more importantly, as you as Director head up that organization?

WRAY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I believe to my core that there's only one right way to do this job and that is with strict independence, by the book, playing it straight, faithful to the Constitution, faithful to our laws and faithful to the best practices of the institution; without fear, without favoritism and, certainly, without regard to any partisan political influence.

That's the commitment that I brought to my years to duty as a line prosecutor, that's the commitment I brought to my time as the head of the Criminal Division, that's the commitment that I think the American people rightly expect of the FBI Director and that's the commitment I would make to this committee and to the country, if confirmed.

And I have way, way, way too much respect and affection, frankly, for the men and women of the FBI to do anything less than that. And I would just say anybody who thinks that I would be pulling punches as the FBI Director sure doesn't know me very well.

GRASSLEY: Thank you. In my opening statement I emphasized the importance of oversight in helping to make government a more transparent, and more accountable as a result, and hopefully more effective. So do you have -- do I have your assurance that If you're confirmed, you will assist me and members of this committee because of our jurisdiction, but maybe I ought to speak for, I hope 100 members of Congress share this view, assist us with our oversight activities, be responsive to our requests and help make the FBI more accountable to the American people?

WRAY: Mr. Chairman, I understand, completely, what you're getting at, I think the role of this committee is special with respect to the FBI and I would do everything I could to ensure that we're being appropriately responsive, and prompt, in dealing with all the members of the Senate, but obviously especially this committee.

[10:20:01] GRASSLEY: OK. And then kind of along the same line, but not just your involvement personally, but would you pledge to provide information to Congress in a timely manner and to foster open and frequent communication between the FBI and this committee, regarding our oversight request? WRAY: Mr. Chairman, I would do everything in my power to ensure that the FBI's being not just as responsive as possible, but as prompt as possible, in responding to appropriate oversight requests, absolutely.

GRASSLEY: So I'll now go on to whistleblowers. And I don't know whether I used this exact language in my office, private conversation with you, and it doesn't matter whether I did or not, but I have a feeling that not just the FBI, but most agencies teach -- treat whistleblowers like they're a skunk at a picnic.

But I think it's a little different in the FBI, from the standpoint that there isn't the exact protection for whistleblowers at the FBI, it's different than most other agencies except National Security.

When we met, I gave you a list of FBI whistleblower cases. That list shows that it has taken two to ten years to get cases resolved by the Department of Justice internal process. Now you may not have any control over that internal process, but the extent to which you do, I guess, that's how I'm asking this question.

FBI whistleblowers also have no access to independent review and the FBI rarely disciplines anyone for retaliating against a whistleblower. Tone is set at the top, that's why it's so important how you feel about this. How will you protect whistleblowers in the FBI and hold retaliators accountable, not just with your words but with your actions?

I'm sorry to say that your predecessors did a poor job, in this respect, even though they may have been very effective in running a law enforcement agency and seeing that everybody got the criminals they should get.

WRAY: Well, Mr. Chairman, your reputation for looking out for whistleblowers, I think, is maybe unparalleled. And certainly I know this topic is very important to you. I would say first off, retaliation against whistleblowers is just wrong. Period. I'm obviously not familiar with -- yet -- the bureau's internal processes but there needs to be a process that allows for appropriate concerns to be raised. And whistleblowers, in my experience, having seen them in a lot of different kinds of organizations, can play a very important role in ensuring accountability.

It's not just oversight from congressional committees and courts, but there is a form of accountability that comes from within and, oftentimes, whistleblowers can be a very important part of that.

GRASSLEY: I appreciate your words. I think, if I remember right, that whistleblowers should not be retaliated against. I want to assure you that at least two of your predecessors have told me exactly the same thing. So, I think it's how you interpret your own words that whistleblowers shouldn't be retaliated against, but you can understand why I have -- I don't expect that you're misleading me in any way, but your good intentions may not be carried out, and so, I think that it's important that you know that.

I'm not going to ask you the last question but I want you to be aware of the fact that FBI whistleblowers are the only federal law enforcement officers who have no access to an independent judicial review, and members of this committee, along with me -- with this senator, are pursuing legislation along that line and I would hope that we could get some -- as you think about it, get some support from you so that your law enforcement people aren't treated differently than others in the federal government.

Now I want to go to national security. I got three minutes left. There's no doubt that you're an extremely qualified individual with a diverse array of work experience, particularly in investigating fraud. But the top priorities of the FBI are focused on national security with the ultimate goal to protect and defend the United States against terrorism and foreign intelligence threats.

Any FBI director needs to, capably and effectively, lead the FBI national security mission. So, to that effect, please explain to us how you have the relevant background, skills, knowledge and experience necessary to lead the FBI in combating national security threats, particularly, in the area of counter-intelligence and counter- terrorism.

WRAY: Mr. Chairman, most of my four years in the leadership of the department, both as principal associate deputy attorney general and as assistant attorney general in charge of the Criminal Division, were focused on those issues, counter-terrorism, and to some extent, also counter-espionage.

[10:25:10] Importantly, during that period of time before 2005, or 2006 even, both the Counterterrorism Section and the Counterespionage Section were part of the Criminal Division.

So my oversight responsibilities in the Criminal Division itself, and then, to some extent, as principal associate deputy attorney general focused on the Criminal Division, and those sections were, of course, particularly high priority, Counterterrorism and Counterespionage, so well over 50 percent of my time in those four years was focused on these very kinds of issues.

GRASSLEY: OK, thank you. Now I want to go -- this will probably be my last question for my ten minutes now. And this is in regard to the electronic communications transactions records, ECTRs, we call that for short here. Your predecessor to the FBI director role spoke, repeatedly, about the need for law enforcement to have the tools it needs to research threats to national security and to have cooperation from electronic communication service providers when doing so.

In that regard, please explain to us whether, as FBI Director, you will advocate for any legislative fixes Congress can put in place to help the FBI get electronic communication transactions records, especially for national security investigations.

WRAY: Well, Mr. Chairman, there's obviously a tricky balance to be struck in that territory. But it's my experience that access to electronic information is paramount, lawfully pursued, I haven't studied the different legislative ideas that are out there, but I do know that we're going to have to, as a society, both the FBI and the Justice Department, this Committee and others, industry, our foreign partners, we are going to have to find solutions to these problems because the role of technology is overtaking us all, and so, I'm committed to try to work with everyone to try to find a solution.

GRASSLEY: OK, Thank you. Senator Feinstein?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Thanks very much, just a couple of quick questions before I get to the substance of my questions. Did you discuss Mr. Comey, or his firing, with anyone in the White House, the Justice Department or the FBI? If so, who, when and what was discussed?

WRAY: Senator Feinstein, I did not discuss those topics, at all, with anyone in the White House. My only discussion on the topic, at all, was Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein making the observation to me that at the time that I first was contacted about this position by him -- by Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, was that now-Special Counsel Mueller had been appointed to deal with that issue and that, in effect, made for a better landscape for me to consider taking on this position.

FEINSTEIN: OK, and that was it?

WRAY: That was it.

FEINSTEIN: OK. Let me go now to the things that we discussed in my office. My understanding is, you served as the deputy attorney general's most senior adviser when the Office of Legal Counsel issued the so-called, Torture Memos in 2002 and 2003. John Yoo, one of the authors of those memos, testified in 2008 before a House Judiciary Committee on June 26th, that you were one of the Justice Department officials who would have received drafts of the memos, and that those memos would not have been issued without the approval of the deputy attorney general's office.

In fact, you said, he believed that you provided comments on the 2003 OLC memo, which concluded that interrogation tactics don't qualify as torture, unless they're intended to cause the kind of severe pain associated with organ failure or death. What was your role in reviewing or approving that memo, or any of the other memos, issued by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the treatment? You should know that there were those of us, at that time, that were trying to get hold of these memos to look at them.

We couldn't even go -- we couldn't, as a member of the Judiciary Committee or member of the Intelligence Committee, we couldn't even see the memos. So this looms big in my mind so I'd appreciate it if you could answer the question.

WRAY: Thank you, Senator Feinstein. I recognize and respect how important an issue this is. First, let me say, my view is that torture is wrong, it's unacceptable, it's illegal and I think it's ineffective.

[10:30:06] Second let me say that I know... (CROSSTALK)

FEINSTEIN: Good beginning.