President Joe Biden intends to keep Christopher Wray as FBI director, the White House announced on Thursday.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki stirred speculation about a possible ouster during her first press conference on Wednesday when she demurred after being asked by a reporter if Biden had confidence in Wray, who was picked by former President Donald Trump to lead the bureau.
“I caused an unintentional ripple yesterday so wanted to state very clearly President Biden intends to keep FBI Director Wray on in his role and he has confidence in the job he is doing,” Psaki tweeted Thursday afternoon.
The FBI does not typically discuss conversations between the president and its director, but the Washington Examiner was told by a source familiar that all of the FBI’s interactions with the Biden team had been very positive. CNN first reported that Biden has confidence in Wray at the bureau’s helm. Wray took over after Trump fired James Comey in May 2017 — FBI directors typically have a ten-year term.
Biden himself had been quiet about Wray, though he did not signal any intention to fire him. In December, the New York Times cited a senior Biden adviser who anonymously said the now-president was “not removing the FBI director unless Trump fired him.”
One week ago, Wray described the bureau’s inquiry into the Capitol siege during a security briefing for former Vice President Mike Pence. He also talked about the bureau’s efforts to keep the Biden inauguration safe, saying, “Just as we’re doing with our investigation into last week’s violent activities at the Capitol, we’re bringing our aggressive operational capabilities and deep investigative and intelligence expertise to next week’s inauguration.” As of last Thursday, Wray said federal authorities arrested more than one hundred people and had more than two hundred suspects tied to the storming of the U.S. Capitol.
The FBI Agents Association, which represents more than 14,000 active and retired FBI special agents, sent a letter from its president to both Trump and Biden in late October saying that “our members strongly support Director Wray continuing his ten-year term” and “look forward to continuing to work with him to protect this great country from national security and criminal threats.”
Wray, who spent time as an assistant U.S. attorney and then took on various leadership roles at the Justice Department under President George W. Bush before moving into private practice, was nominated by Trump in June 2017, and at the time, Trump called Wray “a man of impeccable credentials.” In 2018, Trump said that Comey had sullied the FBI’s reputation but that Wray “will bring it proudly back.”
Trump periodically criticized Wray, including back in May when he asserted that Wray was actually “appointed by” former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Trump said that “the jury is still out” on Wray and “let’s see what happens with him.” But the president said he was ultimately leaving the decision up to former Attorney General William Barr.
Wray faced criticism by conservative commentators and Republican lawmakers for his handling of the case against retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and other Trump-Russia controversies, accusing the bureau chief of suppressing or slow-walking the release of documents about the FBI’s investigation into the former Trump national security adviser. But Barr repeatedly defended Wray, saying, “He’s been a great partner to me in our effort to restore the American people’s confidence in both the Department of Justice and the FBI.” Biden has nominated Judge Merrick Garland to be his attorney general.
The FBI director testified in February 2020 there had been at least some illegal surveillance related to the FISA warrants against Trump campaign associate Carter Page and said he was working to “claw back” any information gleaned from that surveillance. Wray said every member of the FBI mentioned in DOJ inspector general Michael Horowitz’s report on the Trump-Russia investigation had been referred for a disciplinary review, and said “the failures highlighted in that report are unacceptable — period.”
Trump was annoyed with Wray’s stances on cracking down on antifa and voter fraud. The FBI director testified before Congress in the fall that voter fraud is a problem “at the local level from time to time” but that he hadn’t seen evidence of wide-scale fraud. And Wray testified that “we look at antifa as more of an ideology or a movement than an organization” although “to be clear, we do have quite a number of properly predicated domestic terrorism investigations into violent anarchist extremists, any number of whom self-identify with the Antifa movement” and stressed that “antifa is a real thing.”
Conservative lawmakers had also pushed the FBI to say whether it was investigating Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, but the FBI declined to confirm or deny such an investigation, although the FBI said it had nothing to add to the assessment by now-former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe that Hunter Biden’s laptop was not part of a Russian disinformation campaign, and a federal law enforcement official said the FBI agreed with that.
Wray publicly warned about Russian and Iranian election meddling, the threat posed by white supremacist violence, and the danger of a rising Communist China that seeks to become the world’s sole superpower “by any means necessary.”