The U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hosted FBI Director Christopher Wray on Wednesday to discuss the agency’s thousands of pending terrorism investigations around the world.
Instead, California Sen. Kamala Harris, a rumored Democratic candidate for president in 2020, turned the conversation to rehashing the FBI’s seventh background investigation into Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“I think I’m the only member of this committee that’s also a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and I’d like to talk to you about the Kavanaugh hearings,” she said.
“So I just want to be clear about how the system works. When the FBI was given the direction to do the background investigation as it related to Dr. Ford’s allegations, that’s an instruction that goes to the FBI from the White House, is that correct? Not from the senate.”
Wray confirmed that’s the case.
“And when the FBI was directed then to do that investigation as it relates to those specific allegations, was the FBI given full discretion, or was the scope of the investigation limited by the direction that you received from the White House?” Harris questioned, alluding to allegations from Democrats that the president forbid FBI agents from fully investigating Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court over the weekend despite opposition from all Senate Democrats, with the exception of West Virginia’s Joe Manchin. The 50-48 vote followed the judge’s seventh FBI background investigation, which was specifically aimed at Ford’s unsubstantiated claims of unwanted dry humping at a high school drinking party 36 years ago.
In the days since, Harris and other Democrats denounced the FBI investigation as a sham and created the story line that President Trump prevented the agency from fully vetting his candidate for the nation’s highest court.
Harris was intent on building on that theme Wednesday, despite the more serious matter of terrorism before the committee and Wray’s repeated assurances the Kavanaugh investigation was completed fairly.
“I would say this, I think it’s important to understand that unlike most investigations – the … sort we’re all familiar with, criminal investigations, national security investigations – background investigations are very different,” Wray told Harris.
“Our only authority is as requested by the adjudicating agency, which in this case the White House,” he explained.
“So in this situation, was your direction limited in scope, or were you given full discretion to investigate whatever your agency thought was appropriate to figure out what happened?” Harris pressed.
“Our investigation here, our supplemental update to the previous background investigation, was limited in scope and that is consistent with the standard process for such investigations going back quite a long ways,” Wray explained.
The response apparently wasn’t good enough.
She questioned whether the FBI received its directive from the White House in writing, asked Wray to provide documentation to the committee, the specific person from the White House who communicated the directive, and how the FBI determined which witnesses to interview, all of which Wray quickly batted away.
“The communication between the FBI and the White House for nominations, including judicial nominations, is through the FBI’s security division, which has background investigation specialists, and the White House Office of Security, and that’s where always is and I have spoken with our background investigation specialists and they have assured me this was handled in a way that’s consistent with their experience and the standard process,” he said.
Harris was apparently not as concerned about the thousands of threats from terrorism currently targeting the U.S., despite Wray’s startling statistics presented in the committee hearing.
“Right now, as I sit here, we’re currently investigating about 5,000 terrorism cases across America and around the world and about a thousand of those cases are homegrown violent extremists and they rare in all 50 states,” Wray told senators, according to the Washington Examiner.
In the last year alone, Wray said, the FBI has made “hundreds of arrests of terrorism subjects.”