At Homeland Security Hearing, Harris Questions FBI Director on Rudy Giuliani, Foreign Election Interference, Witness Intimidation
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, on Tuesday questioned FBI Director Christopher Wray about potential threats to the United States, including foreign interference in U.S elections, witness intimidation in ongoing investigations, and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer. Wray could not say if the FBI has told the president whether Giuliani is a potential counterintelligence threat or whether Giuliani holds any security clearance of any kind.
“Do you know if Mr. Giuliani holds a security clearance of any kind?” asked Harris.
Wray responded, “I don't know the answer to that.”
Harris continued, “Given the close relationship between the President and Mr. Giuliani has the FBI told the President whether his counsel is a potential counterintelligence threat?”
Wray responded, “I don't think there is anything that I can say on that subject.”
Further, Wray acknowledged that witness intimidation is a threat to the integrity of ongoing investigations.
“I happen to believe witness intimidation is a threat because investigations and prosecutions should be about the truth and pursuit of the truth and if witnesses who have first-hand information can’t and don’t come forward, then that pursuit of the truth is frustrated and impeded,” said Wray.
Given recent news that Rudy Giuliani and other allies of President Trump have sought to pressure Ukraine to interfere in upcoming U.S. elections, Harris pressed Wray to affirm that the FBI would want to know about such activities.
“If an American acting on behalf of a foreign person was seeking to influence or interfere with an American election would the FBI want to know about that?” Harris asked.
Wray responded, “I don't want to be misunderstood as wading in and commenting on specific recent events but just as a general matter in the information about potential interference with our elections by a foreign government or by anybody else is something the FBI would want to know about.”
A full transcript of Harris’ questioning is below:
HARRIS: Thank you. Good afternoon. As you know, our country is facing many threats so I thank all of the witnesses for being here today. Director Wray, I want to start by asking you about Rudy Giuliani, a close outside advisor and counsel to the president. Have you communicated with Mr. Giuliani since you were nominated as the FBI Director?
HARRIS: And do you know if Mr. Giuliani holds any security clearance of any kind?
WRAY: I don’t know the answer to that.
HARRIS: And has Mr. Giuliani made any formal representations, at least to the Justice Department or the FBI, regarding his foreign relationships, business dealings, or conflicts of interest?
WRAY: I am not sure there’s anything I could say on that here.
HARRIS: Is that because this is a confidential matter, or because you don’t know, or because they don’t exist?
WRAY: That is in part because I don’t know the answer for the whole FBI.
HARRIS: What is the other part?
WRAY: Well, if there were something that were shared with some other part of the FBI that I am not aware of it might will run afoul of some of the other issues that you mentioned.
HARRIS: Okay. And given the close relationship between the President and Mr. Giuliani has the FBI told the President whether his counsel is a potential counterintelligence threat?
WRAY: I don't think there is anything that I can say on that subject.
HARRIS: I recall that you have testified in the past that you have taken an oath to defend the Constitution and I admire the way that you have said that and I do believe that to be true. Do you believe that your first oath is to the Constitution or to the President?
WRAY: My loyalty is to the Constitution and to the people of this country.
HARRIS: And if an American acting on behalf of a foreign person was seeking to influence or interfere with an American election, would the FBI want to know about that?
WRAY: Well, again I don't want to be misunderstood as waiting in and commenting on recent-specific recent events but just as a general matter any information about potential interference with our elections by a foreign government or by anybody else is something the FBI would want to know about.
HARRIS: In sworn testimony before the Senate appropriations subcommittee in June you said that you quote could not think of an instance where the President has directly or indirectly asked you to open an investigation of anyone. As of today, can you confirm or deny whether the President has ever asked you to open an investigation as to anyone?
WRAY: Again, I can’t think of an instance in which that has happened. We’ve certainly had discussions about, for example, domestic terrorism threats, foreign intelligence threats, you know, nation-states, things like that, but those have tended to be more about a threat in the aggregate as opposed to a specific individual or anything like that.
HARRIS: Has the president or anyone on his behalf suggested that the FBI start, stop, or limit the scope of any investigation?
WRAY: Not that I can think of.
HARRIS: In your view, would it be improper for the FBI to launch, limit, or stop a criminal investigation at the request of the president, or anyone at the White House?
WRAY: Well again, I’m not going into wade into specific people’s conversations, but what I will say is that the FBI’s obligation and my obligation and the obligation I expect of all 37,000 men and women of the FBI is that we’re going to conduct properly predicated investigations, continue properly predicated investigations, and complete properly predicated investigations.
HARRIS: So without referring to any specific investigations, in your view would it be improper for the FBI to launch, limit, or stop a criminal investigation at the request of the president or at the request of anyone at the White House?
WRAY: I think we should conduct our investigations based only on the facts, and the law, and the rules that govern us and nothing else.
HARRIS: Okay, I’m going to take nothing else as meaning that you believe it would be improper to be asked by the White House or the president to engage in such conduct. Is that correct?
WRAY: Well again I’m not going to wade into hypotheticals but I think we’re saying the same thing, in the sense that I cannot think–
HARRIS: –But we're talking about rules of ethics–
WRAY: –I cannot think that the FBI should be concluding or closing an investigation for any improper purpose.
HARRIS: Okay, I'm going to ask you one more time and you'll either answer it or you won't, clearly, but I'm asking you about what is ethically appropriate. Would it be ethically appropriate to launch, limit, or stop a criminal investigation at the request of the president or anyone at the White House?
WRAY: I think there should be no opening of an investigation based on anything other than the facts and the law. That's my answer.
HARRIS: Thank you. To your knowledge, has the White House or any member of the administration ever directed or suggested that Attorney General Barr or any other member of the Justice Department start, stop, or limit the scope of a criminal investigation?
WRAY: I can’t speak to Attorney General Barr’s communications with others.
HARRIS: And during your time at the Department of Justice and given your extensive and noble career, have you ever encountered suspects or defendants who tried to intimidate witnesses?
WRAY: Absolutely, and prosecuted some.
HARRIS: And why isn't witness intimidation a threat to the pursuit of justice?
WRAY: Why isn't witness–
HARRIS: –Why is it.
WRAY: Oh, why is it. Okay. I was going to say I happen to believe that witness intimidation is a threat to– because investigations and prosecutions should be about the truth and the pursuit of the truth. And if witnesses have first-hand information can't and don't come forward then that pursuit of the truth is frustrated and impeded.
HARRIS: And in June 2019, it was reported that hundreds of law enforcement officers around the country are in active members only extremist Facebook groups. These groups include white lives matter, ban the NAACP, Death to Islam, undercover. Can you tell me what work your agency has done to investigate any of these cases and to what degree of success?
WRAY: I'm not aware of the specific report that you're referring to. As I think I mentioned in response to one of your earlier questions, we do have about 900, I'd say, give or take at the moment, domestic terrorism type investigations. That's of course not counting our hate crimes investigations. And a huge chunk of those involve some degree of what one might call white supremacist– white supremacist ideology as the extremist ideology that's motivating the crime that we are investigating.
HARRIS: Thank you, director, and thank you for your service.
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