FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, though, isn’t playing along. He made a significant stand against this talking point Monday, and apparently it has put his relationship with Trump on ice.
In an interview with ABC News, Wray declared there was “no indication” that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election. And then he went a step further: He urged people to be savvier consumers of news.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but he’s basically saying he doesn’t want them listening to the president of the United States.
“We have no information that indicates that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 presidential election,” Wray said, adding: “Well, look, there’s all kinds of people saying all kinds of things out there. I think it’s important for the American people to be thoughtful consumers of information and to think about the sources of it and to think about the support and predication for what they hear.”
The latter portion of Wray’s comments came when he was asked about “politicians” pushing the Ukraine conspiracy theory, not Trump specifically. But to be clear, chief among those politicians is Trump.
Wray made the comments the same day Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released his long-anticipated report on the origins of the Russia investigation. Horowitz found significant fault in the FBI’s handling of FISA warrant applications to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, but he otherwise found the entire Russia investigation to be legitimate.
Wray on Monday also pledged significant reforms to the FISA process, but apparently that wasn’t enough to escape a nastygram from the boss. Trump tweeted conspicuously at his “current” FBI director Tuesday morning.
“I don’t know what report current Director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading, but it sure wasn’t the one given to me,” Trump said. “With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men & women working there!”
So not exactly a vote of confidence.
Wray added in his ABC interview that it was “important that the inspector general found that, in this particular instance, the investigation was opened with appropriate predication and authorization” — which is an accurate and objective summary of the report, but may have alienated Trump. His real offense here, though, appears to have nothing to do with the Horowitz report, which wasn’t about Ukraine. Rather, it came shortly after he became a rare voice around Trump who was unwilling to participate in the muddying of the waters with regard to Russia, Ukraine and 2016 election interference.
As former White House Russia expert Fiona Hill explained in her recent testimony, certain Ukrainian officials favored Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election and said and did things that reflected their confidence she would be the next U.S. president. But that was a foolish gamble, Hill said, that many foreign leaders made. She said there was simply no comparison between what various Ukrainians did in the 2016 election and the systematic, top-down effort waged by Russia.
Republicans have walked a fine line on this. While Trump seems to believe Ukraine might actually be responsible for the interference that the U.S. government consensus blames on Russia — hence the CrowdStrike server thing — GOP lawmakers have watered down the conspiracy theory and pretended it’s really just that Ukraine also interfered. They have had to entertain this idea because, without it, they have to admit Trump was chasing the conspiracy theories in Ukraine that he actually was.
The problem with that argument, Hill noted, is that it’s reductive when it comes to the really significant, actual interference in the 2016 election. To say Ukraine also interfered is to suggest there is some comparison between the two. And that’s really what Wray seems to be guarding against.
“And I think part of us being well-protected against malign foreign influence is to build together an American public that’s resilient, that has appropriate media literacy and that takes its information with a grain of salt,” Wray said.
Whoever could he be talking about?