President Trump and his closest allies have engaged in a not-so-subtle campaign to delegitimize the federal law enforcement officials who are investigating him. And Tuesday, the FBI director who has found himself enmeshed in that conflict implicitly suggested Trump's attacks don't amount to much.
He even seemed to dismiss it all as “noise.”
At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, whom Trump picked to lead the bureau in June, was asked directly about the president's criticisms of the FBI. And although he didn't mention the president specifically, he didn't completely disarm, either.
“There's no shortage of opinions about our agency, just like every other agency up here — and just like the Congress,” Wray said. He added: “I'd encourage our folks not to get too hung up on what I consider to be the noise on TV and in social media.”
Wray was being diplomatic here, and he turned the question from one about Trump into an answer about “TV” and “social media.” This has been the standard response when Trump-appointed officials, staff and congressional Republicans are asked to account for the things Trump has done and said. They often pretend tweets are unimportant and that we're talking about Twitter trolls rather than the actions of the most powerful man in the world.
But the question here was clearly and unmistakably about Trump, and so — inherently — was Wray's answer. Here's the full question Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) asked him:
The FBI has been accused of political bias recently against the president, by the president himself. In fact, he said the FBI’s reputation is, quote, in tatters. Do you think the FBI’s reputation is in any way in tatters? And are you confident in the independence of your agency?
The implication of Wray's comment is that he considers Trump's campaign against law enforcement to be just another rather meaningless political opinion. This isn't just cable TV and Twitter, after all; this is supporters on those media following the lead of Trump and his staunchest allies, like House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). The “opinions” Wray is describing are shared from Trump on down.
Wray's position in all of this has been among the most uncomfortable in all of Washington. He is the man Trump appointed to replace James B. Comey after Trump fired Comey, and Wray has reportedly clashed with the White House recently over the its desire to be rid of Andrew McCabe, who eventually resigned as Wray's second-in-command. Some even reported that Wray had threatened to resign over the matter.
Wray's comments likely won't be reported widely as a dig at Trump — nor does he probably want them to be, judging by how he finessed his answer. But just like all those Republicans who have talked about Trump's comments and tweets as if they were the rantings of a random man on the street and not the words of the president, his thoughts here can't help but be about Trump. Trump, after all, is “the noise.”