FBI Director Christopher Wray, in his first public remarks as the bureau’s new head, said he has seen no interference from the White House in the ongoing investigation into potential collusion between Moscow and Trump associates in last year’s election.
“I can say very confidently that I have not detected any whiff of interference with that investigation,” said Wray, who has been on the job for five weeks in the wake of President Donald Trump’s firing of James Comey.
He noted that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is running the investigation and that the bureau has agents working on the probe. He said he has “enormous respect” for Mueller, whom he knew when Mueller ran the FBI in the early 2000s and Wray was a senior Justice Department official.
Wray, whose name is often paired with adjectives like “understated” and “low-key,” is a departure in style from his predecessor, Comey, who reveled the spotlight and in engaging in public debate.
“He is calm and collected,” said Charlie Allen, a former longtime senior intelligence official who heard Wray at an Intelligence and National Security Summit on Thursday. “He has a clear mind. He’s very independent.”
During his confirmation hearing in July, Wray, who is 50, pledged he would resign rather than give in to pressure from the president to drop an investigation. “No one should mistake my low-key demeanor as a lack of resolve, as some kind of willingness to compromise on principle,” he said.
Trump has publicly expressed doubts about the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia intervened in the election in part to help him win. Wray in July said he had no reason to second-guess the spy agencies’ assessment, and that hasn’t changed now that he has seen the classified report on the subject, he said.
Wray also noted that the FBI, in its counterintelligence mission, is working at preventing Russian interference in future elections. “So there’s overlap of mission there” with Mueller’s probe, and “I’m impressed with the strides that we’ve made on that front.”
Trump has not hidden his displeasure with what he sees as politically motivated leaks coming from government officials with respect to the Russia probe. He has repeatedly called on the Justice Department, of which the FBI is a part, to catch and punish leakers.
Wray, who was part of a panel of five intelligence officials, acknowledged leaks were “of deep concern to all of us on this stage.” He also gave a nod to “the important role the free press plays in a society.” He said those with access to classified information should respect the “shared sense of accountability and responsibility for the information we’re all entrusted with.”
Wray urged Congress to renew a surveillance law known informally as “Section 702″ for the portion of the statute it falls under. It helped detect an Islamic State proponent who was recruiting online via social media and who advocated the killing of U.S. military members, he said. The ISIS member, Shawn Parson, who was from Trinidad and Tobago, was killed in Syria in 2015.
He said a big challenge for the bureau is on the technology front. Adversaries’ advances in technology are “exceeding our ability to keep up,” he said. Without private sector collaboration here, he said, “we’ve got a very, very scary road ahead of us.”