FBI Director Christopher A. Wray appears to take no pleasure in public clashes with President Trump, who nominated him.
Asked Tuesday in a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about a controversial memo authored by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), which Trump decided to make public this month, Wray waited for five other intelligence chiefs to respond first, made an oblique reference to “interaction about the memo” and finally said, after a follow-up question, that “as we said publicly, we had grave concerns about that memo's release.”
Wray similarly tried to deflect a question from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) about the extent to which the FBI informed the White House about domestic violence accusations against staff secretary Rob Porter. Wray seemed to be trying to avoid a direct answer that would make the White House look bad.
But when pressed, Wray ultimately offered a response that appeared to contradict the White House's claim to have been unaware of the abuse allegations made by both of Porter's ex-wives. Here's his exchange with Wyden:
WYDEN: Was the FBI aware of allegations related to Rob Porter and domestic abuse? And, if so, was the White House informed that this could affect his security clearance? When were they informed? And who at the White House was informed?
WRAY: Well, senator, there's a limit to what I can say about the content of any particular background investigation for a variety of reasons I'm sure you can appreciate. I would say that the background investigation process involves a fairly elaborate set of standards, guidelines, protocols, agreements, etc., that have been in place for 20-plus years, and I'm quite confident that in this particular instance, the FBI followed established protocols.
WYDEN: So, was the White House informed that this could affect his security clearance? That's a yes or no.
WRAY: I can't get into the content of what was briefed.
WYDEN: What — were they informed?
WRAY: What I can tell you is that the FBI submitted a partial report on the investigation in question in March and then a completed background investigation in late July; that soon thereafter we received a request for follow-up inquiry, and we did the follow-up and provided that information in November; and that we administratively closed the file in January. And then earlier this month we received some additional information, and we passed that on as well.
The timeline offered by Wray is hard to square with last week's assertion by deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah that Chief of Staff John F. Kelly “became fully aware about these allegations” on Feb. 7.
“I'm not going to get into the specifics regarding who may have known what pieces of information because they were all part of an ongoing background check investigation,” Shah said.
According to Wray, the FBI completed its investigation and submitted a report to the White House in July — four months after it had provided an update. Wray did not say what exactly was in those reports, but even if we generously assume that the full nature of Porter's alleged abuse was not provided to the White House until the FBI conducted its follow-up in November, it still sounds, based on Wray's testimony, as though the White House knew more than it has acknowledged.