The Oklahoman

Attacks, new investigat­ions test FBI

Pressures mounting on director likely to increase

- Eric Tucker and Del Quentin Wilber

WASHINGTON – Three days after federal agents searched former President Donald Trump’s Florida home for classified documents, FBI Director Christophe­r Wray emailed his workforce urging them to tune out criticism from those who “don’t know what we know and don’t see what we see.”

The work was done by the book, the director wrote in his Aug. 11 email. “We don’t cut corners. We don’t play favorites.”

The internal message was an acknowledg­ment of the unpreceden­ted nature of the search and the subsequent pummeling the bureau had been receiving from Trump and his supporters. It also was a recognitio­n that the FBI had been navigating a moment so fraught that the normally taciturn Wray felt compelled to address employees about the ramifications of the investigat­ion.

The pressures on Wray and the FBI have grown since then and are only likely to intensify. In its long history, the FBI has rarely been at the center of so many politicall­y sensitive investigat­ions. Agents are simultaneo­usly examining the retention of classified documents by Trump and President Joe Biden. And they’re scrutinizi­ng efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol.

The probes, overseen by Justice Department special counsels, are unfolding in a hyper-partisan environmen­t as the 2024 presidenti­al election nears and as Congress launches its own investigat­ions of the FBI. All the while, the bureau has been subjected to regular attacks from Trump, his supporters and influential right-wing pundits, with the former president saying FBI “misfits” are less credible than Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In an interview with The Associated Press this week, Wray acknowledg­ed the FBI was enduring tough times. But he downplayed the impact the “noise” had on day-to-day work, insisting the opinions he most valued were those of “the people we do the work for and those we do the work with.”

Adding to the tension: Republican­s are using their newly minted House majority to investigat­e the investigat­ors, accusing the FBI of abuses ranging from unfairly targeting Trump to suppressin­g free speech. They’ve highlighte­d disputed, uncorrobor­ated whistleblo­wer complaints against supervisor­s that the FBI for privacy reasons says it’s constraine­d from fully responding to.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a Wray critic and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, told The AP last week he supported rank-and-file agents but was concerned about the leadership.

For Wray, the turbulence is more a continuati­on of a recent trend than something new.

He was appointed by Trump in 2017 after the chaotic firing of his predecesso­r, James Comey, and as the FBI investigat­ed ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign. Furious over that probe, Trump lashed out at Wray for the remainder of his term and openly flirted with firing him.

The director fastidious­ly ignored the verbal assaults, adhering to a “keep calm and tackle hard” mantra that he has repeatedly conveyed to agents but that can seem incongruou­s with a climate that is decidedly not calm. His approach did not change as the bureau initiated investigat­ions involving the current and former presidents.

“We’re not well-served by wading into the fray, taking the bait and responding to every breathless allegation,” Wray told The AP. “So we will continue to push back and correct the record when we appropriat­ely can. But as long as I’m director we’re going to follow the FBI’s long history and tradition of letting our work do the talking.”

The partisan environmen­t magnifies self-inflicted wounds that have damaged the FBI’s credibilit­y, making it more difficult to counter conspiracy theories and questionab­le narratives.

The inherent tripwires of politicall­y explosive investigat­ions were manifest last summer, when some in the FBI resisted the idea of serving a search warrant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate believing a more cautious approach was better and that the Trump team was entitled to more time to cooperate, according to a person with knowledge of the talks. The Washington Post earlier reported the disagreeme­nts.

In the days after the search, as U.S. officials warned of an alarming spike in threats against the FBI, a 42-year-old Trump supporter attacked the FBI’s Cincinnati field office. No FBI employees were harmed, but police killed the gunman.

For his part, Wray said he tries to communicat­e as much as he can about the FBI’s work, including about the Chinese espionage threat or other priorities, but no matter how much he does so, “the focus is on the manufactur­ed controvers­ies of the day or the one or two cases that get all the attention.”

He believes a key part of his job is to step up outreach to his 38,000-member workforce. Besides the message after the Mar-a-Largo search, he held an employee town hall in December, taking questions about public perception of the FBI, agent safety and allegation­s of politiciza­tion.

He also frequently visits the bureau’s 56 field offices to speak to agents and local law enforcemen­t.

“At the end of the day,” he said of the workforce, “they’re not doing it to attract popularity contests on social media or to win the adoration of pundits.”

 ?? JOHN C. CLARK/AP ?? “As long as I’m director we’re going to follow the FBI’s long history and tradition of letting our work do the talking,” FBI Director Christophe­r Wray said during an interview this week with The Associated Press.
JOHN C. CLARK/AP “As long as I’m director we’re going to follow the FBI’s long history and tradition of letting our work do the talking,” FBI Director Christophe­r Wray said during an interview this week with The Associated Press.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States