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FBI chief grilled over unrest, rights

by MATT ZAPOTOSKY THE WASHINGTON POST | June 11, 2021 at 4:20 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- Democrats and Republicans lobbed withering questions at FBI Director Christopher Wray as he testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, though their concerns diverged significantly along partisan lines.

Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., blasted Wray for the bureau's failure to detect in advance and respond to the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, while ranking Republican Jim Jordan of Ohio accused the bureau of intruding on Americans' civil liberties in an eclectic mix of circumstances.

The hearing made clear that Democrats and Republicans could hardly be further apart on what the FBI should and shouldn't be doing. But on this much, they seemed to agree: The nation's premier federal law enforcement institution had significant problems that needed to be addressed.

For his part, Wray sought to highlight how the bureau seeks to root out violence -- no matter what motivates it -- and is careful not to tread on Americans' First Amendment rights.

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In his opening statement, the FBI director highlighted the "extremist violence" of Jan. 6 in which more than 100 officers were injured in just a few hours and asserted that law enforcement officials had made more than 500 arrests.

But he also noted the bureau saw extremist violence during last summer's civil unrest associated with racial-justice protests. Although he asserted that "most citizens made their voices heard through peaceful lawful, protests," he said that others attacked federal buildings and left officers injured, and thousands had been arrested across the country.

Nadler and other Democrats pressed Wray on the intelligence the bureau had gathered in advance of Jan. 6, and the actions it took that day as rioters stormed the Capitol. Nadler noted that a report from the bureau's Norfolk field office from the day before seemed to predict what was going to happen, and it was forwarded to the field office in Washington. He questioned why, in the days after the riot, the head of that office insisted the bureau had no intelligence that anything would happen beyond activity protected by the First Amendment.

"Did the FBI simply miss the evidence, or did it see the evidence and fail to piece it together?" Nadler asked.

Wray, as he and others have in the past, said the document was "raw, unverified" intelligence and asserted that it nonetheless was shared with law enforcement partners, including the Capitol Police, in multiple ways.

Democrats also sought to get Wray to stress the seriousness of the Jan. 6 attack and asked him whether the FBI was investigating former President Donald Trump in connection with it, while Republicans focused more on the summer's unrest, questioning whether federal law enforcement agencies weree treating those cases differently.

Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., said that it "appears to the public that those activities have been treated differently by the FBI and by law enforcement," and asked him to clarify what the FBI was doing.

Though Wray stressed the seriousness of both, he noted that with the summer's violence across the country, it was often easier for prosecutors to pursue local charges, while the mayhem at the Capitol produced more federal offenses.

In his own wide-ranging opening statement, Jordan decried what he said has been an erosion of Americans' constitutional rights, pointing first to pandemic-related restrictions on gatherings. Then he turned his ire on the bureau, criticizing in particular the FBI executing a search warrant at the Manhattan home and law offices of Rudy Giuliani, the onetime New York mayor and attorney for Trump.

Giuliani, Jordan said, would later claim he was willing to cooperate with the bureau; Giuliani's lawyer had said after the search that his client had twice offered to answer questions, except those that might be covered by attorney-client privilege.

"But no, you kicked in his door instead," Jordan said.

Wray repeatedly declined to answer questions about that search and the search involving Giuliani.


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