Jul 12 2017
Washington—Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today spoke at the nomination hearing of Christopher Wray to be director of the FBI:
“The position of FBI director is currently vacant because of a situation and I want to speak about that. On May 9th of this year President Trump fired James Comey. Although we’re still sorting out all of the circumstances and details surrounding the president’s decision, it does not appear that Mr. Comey was fired because the bureau was “a mess” as originally stated.
Nor is there evidence that Mr. Comey was dismissed because rank and file FBI agents had either lost confidence in him, or because of his handling of the Clinton investigation.
Rather, we find that rank and file agents of the FBI did and continue to overwhelmingly support James Comey.
In addition, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein told members of Congress that when he wrote his memo, President Trump had already decided to remove Mr. Comey as FBI director.
Based on press reports and the president’s own words, the reason Mr. Comey was dismissed was because he would not pledge his loyalty to the president and he would not “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation. President Trump said in a televised interview, for example: “I was going to fire Comey regardless of recommendation” and “when I decided to just do it, I said to myself… you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”
As the FBI’s investigation into Russian election interference and possible coordination with the Trump campaign progressed, it appears the president became more and more concerned with Director Comey’s unwillingness to cooperate in the Flynn matter, as well as the Russia matter.
All of this raises important questions for the next FBI head and particularly for his independence.
First and foremost, the FBI is and must remain an independent law enforcement organization free from political influence. And this starts at the very top.
The FBI director does not serve the president. He serves the Constitution and the American people. As such, the director of the FBI must be a leader who has the integrity and strength that will enable him to withstand any attempts at political interference.
Today, the Judiciary Committee will fully examine the qualifications, integrity and independence of the nominee before us.
Will Mr. Wray and the FBI pursue investigations with independence and vigor, regardless of who may be implicated?
Will he stand up for what is right and lawful?
Will he tell the president “No” if improperly directed to pursue certain or end certain investigations?
These are not abstract questions or hypotheticals, and the committee must consider how Mr. Wray has handled such situations in the past.
According to one press account, for example, Mr. Wray expressed his readiness to resign alongside then-Deputy Attorney General Comey and FBI Director Mueller in a standoff with the Bush White House about the legality of the NSA’s warrantless surveillance program.
Yet, John Yoo has testified that just a year earlier Mr. Wray was part of the senior leadership in the Justice Department that may have reviewed an Office of Legal Counsel memo justifying the use of enhanced interrogation techniques.
This is significant, not only because of what it says about Mr. Wray’s views and independence at the time, but we know there are those who bring back torture if they could. And so how he will handle this as the FBI director is important.
In 2009, this committee heard important testimony stating that FBI interrogators have traditionally used the informed interrogation approach. Ali Soufan, who many of us know, an FBI agent who was a key FBI interrogator for several major terrorism investigations, testified to us directly about the contrast between the FBI’s techniques and the enhanced interrogation techniques used by the CIA during the Bush administration. Specifically, he testified that these enhanced techniques were operationally “ineffective, slow and unreliable”, and ultimately harmful to counterterrorism efforts.
In fact, we learned that back in 2002, then-FBI Director Bob Mueller ended the FBI’s participation in the interrogation of Zubaydah and other CIA detainees because of the harsh torture methods being used, and because they were undermining the investigation. In fact, he pulled his people out.
This is important. The issue of interrogation techniques is not just something of the past.
In February of this past year, then-candidate Trump claimed that torture “works” and has said that he would, “immediately,” bring back waterboarding and “much worse.”
So, I am particularly interested in hearing more about the nominee’s knowledge of the Justice Department’s legal justification for the CIA’s use of torture during the Bush administration, as well as his knowledge of detainee abuse by the military in Iraq.
I have said before that the CIA’s use of torture as part of its detention and interrogation program are a stain on our nation’s values and our nation’s history. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report was issued in December 2014 when I was chairman of that committee. It outlined, in specific, the horrific abuses of detainees, as well as the flimsy legal reasoning used to justify such practices.
Mr. Wray was the principal associate deputy attorney general at the Justice Department when the Office of Legal Counsel issued the so-called “torture memos” in 2002 and 2003. One of the authors of those memos, John Yoo, testified that OLC would not have issued such opinions without the approval of the office of the attorney general or the office of deputy attorney general.
In fact, in his testimony, John Yoo specifically referenced Mr. Wray as one of the individuals who would have received drafts of OLC memos. So this raises the question of what exactly was Mr. Wray’s role in reviewing and approving these memos. And I’d like Mr. Wray to clear this up this morning. I’ve had an opportunity to talk with him. I think this should go on-the-record and I think he should respond directly to the full committee.
I’m also concerned by reports that Mr. Wray was alerted early on to the abuse of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. I’d like to know more about what the nominee knew and when, and what he did in response.
This committee is charged with considering Mr. Wray’s qualifications and experience with criminal and counterterrorism investigations. But we must also examine his independence, his integrity and his willingness to stand up in the face of political pressure because it will most certainly come.”