The day before FBI Director Christopher Wray explained to a Senate appropriations subcommittee why his department deserves a $527.8 million raise in 2023, his agents were credited with foiling an ISIS-linked plot to assassinate George W. Bush. An Iraqi national was arrested on May 25 and charged with attempting to smuggle four other Iraqis into the United States then “murder” the former president in retaliation for the war in Iraq. (I will address the sketchiness of this story in a separate column.)
The timing for Wray was suspiciously fortuitous; appointed by Donald Trump in 2018 to lead the scandal-ridden agency, Wray continues to promote the unsubstantiated notion that domestic terrorists, i.e., Trump voters, pose a lethal threat to national security. For nearly a year and a half, armed FBI agents across the country have raided, interrogated, and arrested more than 800 Americans on mostly nonviolent offenses related to January 6, 2021, a four-hour protest that Wray considers an “act of domestic terror.”
Then right before Wray went hat-in-hand to Congress to ask for a budget boost, headlines blared the news that his department thwarted a plan tied to a legitimate terrorist organization overseas?
Color me skeptical.
If he gets his way, Wray will control a $10.7 billion budget next year—a $1.4 billion increase over 2020—and nearly 37,000 employees. Meanwhile, the American people have lost trust in the nation’s top law enforcement agency; a recent poll revealed that 64 percent of Republicans and 46 percent of independents consider the FBI “Joe Biden’s personal Gestapo.” Even 30 percent of Democrats agree, presumably more as a bragging point than a source of alarm.
Wray, however, appears unconcerned with his department’s poor reputation. So, too, are Republican lawmakers. Not a single GOP senator grilled Wray about the FBI-concocted scheme to “kidnap” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in 2020, an operation that involved at least a dozen undercover FBI agents and informants working out of numerous FBI offices and required approval from top FBI officials in Washington. A Michigan jury last month acquitted two men charged with conspiring to abduct and kill Whitmer after defense attorneys successfully argued their clients were entrapped by the FBI. (The jury could not reach a verdict for two other men; Biden’s Justice Department plans to retry the case.)
No one asked Wray how his agents missed Payton Gendron, the man responsible for the massacre in Buffalo on May 14, despite a wide online footprint, a history of threatening behavior, and reports that the killer communicated with a former federal agent prior to the attack. Republicans also gave Wray a pass on the targeting of parents at school board meetings; the whereabouts of Hunter Biden’s laptop—which the FBI took possession of in December 2019—and any investigation of its contents; repeated violations to FBI policies on investigations of political interests; and the raid of Project Veritas’ James O’Keefe to stonewall another Biden family scandal.
The botched FBI investigation into serial rapist Larry Nassar, longtime physician for the women’s USA Gymnastics team, only earned a glancing mention. (Thirteen victims have filed a lawsuit against the FBI seeking $176 million in damages.) Wray feigned ignorance when Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) asked whether the two FBI agents primarily responsible for mishandling the matter would face criminal prosecution.
The very next day, the Justice Department announced it would not pursue charges against the agents, insisting that the “Principles of Federal Prosecution require more to bring a federal criminal case,” even though both agents lied to federal investigators during an internal inquiry. Moran and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) immediately issued a statement calling the decision “infuriating.”
Only one senator confronted Wray about the FBIs lost credibility. “There are millions of Americans who look at this and think, I’m not saying they’re correct, that the FBI’s become a political organization and at some point you’re going to have to address that,” Senator John Kennedy (R-La.) told Wray. “I think at the right time you’re gonna have to address this and assure the American people that the rot is gone.”
But the rot is festering; after facing no consequences for any number of illicit scandals over the past several years, Wray’s FBI is emboldened to act as the enforcement arm of the Democratic Party. One has to look no further than the scummy FBI agents and informants responsible for the Whitmer kidnapping hoax, another FBI attempt to interfere in a presidential election and sabotage Donald Trump.
Christopher Wray will not excise the “rot” that infests the FBI from top to bottom. Therefore, the task falls to Sen. Kennedy, his Senate colleagues and House Republicans. But there’s no indication that will happen. Senators last week should have hammered Wray for using his authority for flagrant partisan purposes—from entrapping innocent Americans to produce damaging headlines for Trump right before the 2020 election to spying on parents protesting race and gender-related school policies—not handle him with kid gloves.
But that is exactly what happened. In one gushing exchange during the hearing, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)—the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee who promised and failed for years to “get to the bottom” of the FBIs politically-motivated investigation into Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign—and Wray flirted with the idea of giving the FBI more money than the proposed budget request.
Graham noted that the FBI’s budget increase is below the rate of inflation. “After listening to you and everything you say is legitimate concern, you have a lot to do. Do you think the committee should look at increasing your budget?” Graham asked Wray, who replied that he would welcome “any additional resources” and promised the funds would be “put to good use.”
Of course, the FBI does not deserve a raise—instead, its headquarters should be razed and the department completely overhauled if not abolished. It repeatedly has failed to protect the most vulnerable including young gymnasts and grade schoolers while deploying its destructive powers against American citizens for political reasons.
Unfortunately, Republicans in Washington don’t have the stomach for such a battle—but denying the FBI’s big money grab next year should be a no-brainer. Rewarding the FBI with a half-billion in tax dollars would not just be a slap in the face to Republican voters but also to every victim of the FBI’s shoddy, unaccountable practices.
Will Republicans find the backbone to partially reign in this rogue agency? Sadly, the answer probably is no.