Posted by Curt on 3 March, 2021 at 8:43 am. 4 comments already!


By Byron York

FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. He gave the media a good headline — the Washington Post version of it was “FBI director says domestic terrorism ‘metastasizing’ throughout U.S. as cases soar,” and the New York Times version was “Domestic terrorism threat is ‘metastasizing’ in U.S., FBI director says.” But while he took care of the media, Wray didn’t give the Senate very much information. That’s not unusual. And there are signs the Senate has had enough of the FBI’s show-but-don’t-tell routine.

Since much of the hearing was devoted to the FBI’s investigation of the January 6 Capitol riot, Republican Senator Charles Grassley wanted to know more about the case of the only law enforcement officer to die in the violence, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick. There have, of course, been conflicting media reports about Sicknick’s death. At first, the story was he died as a result of rioters hitting him with a fire extinguisher; a Times story cited “a bloody gash” in Sicknick’s head. Then the story was there was no evidence of trauma at all, and officials might or might not have had trouble pinpointing a cause of death.

Grassley asked Wray two simple questions: “Have you determined the exact cause of death and is there a homicide investigation?” Wray would not answer either one. Here is what he said:

WRAY: So I will take the last part of your question first. There is an ongoing investigation into his death. I have to be careful at this stage because it’s ongoing not go get out in front of it, but I certainly understand and respect and appreciate the keen interest in what happened to him. After all, he was protecting all of you, and as soon as our information that we can appropriately share we want to be able to do that, but at the moment the investigation is still ongoing.

GRASSLEY: So does that mean since the investigation is going on you have not determined the exact cause of the death?

WRAY: That means we can’t yet disclose the cause of death at this stage.

GRASSLEY: But you have determined the cause of death?

WRAY: I didn’t say that. We are not at a point where we can disclose or confirm the cause of death.

The short version: Wray revealed nothing. When Grassley asked if there was a “homicide investigation,” Wray said there was an “investigation.” When Grassley asked if a cause of death had been found, Wray would not say, but made clear he would not tell the Senate in any event.

Grassley had more questions. He wanted to know about the percentage of FBI domestic terrorist investigations that are based on racially-motivated extremists versus those based on jihadist ideology. Wray did not answer. Grassley wanted to know why the FBI had not given to Congress the bureau’s January 5 memo warning of possible violence at the Capitol on January 6. Wray said it was “law enforcement sensitive,” but that he would “get with [his] staff to check on it.” Grassley noted that on February 2, he and committee chairman Senator Richard Durbin — the top Democrat and top Republican on the committee — had written the FBI seeking documents and information about the Capitol riot. They have gotten nothing. “It’s difficult to hold a hearing today without records,” Grassley said.

Other senators, notably Republicans Mike Lee and Josh Hawley, wanted to know about the surveillance measures the FBI had used to identify suspects in the Capitol riot investigation. Wray professed to know little or nothing about it.

But the complaints from Grassley, Lee, and Hawley were minor compared to those from Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. When his turn came to question Wray, Whitehouse began by explaining that senators ask questions during hearings but often submit further queries in writing, so-called questions for the record, that the witness is expected to answer. The FBI, Whitehouse complained, simply ignores questions for the record. Here is how the exchange began:

WHITEHOUSE: Do you know how many questions for the record the FBI failed to answer in the last four years?

WRAY: I do not.

WHITEHOUSE: Well, I’ll tell you. There were nine hearings in this committee in which the FBI was a witness. And in seven of them the committee got exactly zero questions for the record — seven, zero questions. Can you explain that?

WRAY: I cannot. I will say —

WHITEHOUSE: Are you going to do any better with the questions that we are getting right now? You have been asked questions for the record. Are they going to go into the same whatever-it-was hole where questions for the record go to die at the FBI?

Backtracking, Wray tried to explain that the FBI’s answers have to go through an “elaborate interagency process” before they can be sent to Congress. Whitehouse asked Wray to cite whatever policy requires that process. “I can’t cite you the reg or the rule,” Wray said. Whitehouse complained that the FBI only answers questions when it sees a political advantage in doing so. Otherwise, “We have run this rigmarole with that interagency process in which we don’t get answers.”

Wray said that he, too, was frustrated by the slowness of the process — a claim that, it is fair to guess, no one on the committee really believed. Whitehouse vowed to do “whatever it takes,” including blocking nominees, to force the FBI to begin answering questions.

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