In his opening statement, Wray talked about arrests the FBI has made of more than “20,000 violent criminals and child predators,” and spoke about 300 investigations going after drug cartels along the southern border.
“The men and women of the FBI work tirelessly every day to protect the American people from what is really a staggering array of threats,” Wray said.
However, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee accused Wray and the FBI of using the agency as a political weapon and targeting conservatives.
The FBI has faced criticism from GOP members for its role in the classified documents case against former president Donald Trump and how agents searched his Mar-a-Lago home.
Wray told committee members he would not engage in specific questions regarding federal investigations involving Trump or the president’s son, Hunter Biden. Hunter Biden recently reached an agreement, which Republicans have slammed as a “sweetheart” deal, to plead guilty to misdemeanor federal tax charges.
On Wednesday, Wray rejected assertions that the bureau was favoring the Biden family.
In an explosive exchange, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, read an alleged WhatsApp message from Hunter Biden to a Chinese businessman, and asked the director: “Are you protecting the Bidens?”
“Absolutely not,” Wray forcefully refuted. “The FBI has no interest in protecting anyone politically.”
Committee chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who has called for stripping the FBI of non-essential funding, detailed previous accusations GOP lawmakers have made against the bureau, including that it is suppressing conservative speech on social media and targeting anti-abortion Catholics.
This week, committee Republicans also accused the FBI of colluding with a Ukrainian intelligence agency called the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) in a flawed attempt to stop Russian disinformation.
Republicans said the FBI did not properly vet social media accounts flagged by the Ukrainian intelligence agency for allegedly spreading Russian disinformation. Notably, the report said there was a verified US State Department Russian language Instagram account flagged to Meta by the bureau.
California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa grilled Wray over this report.
“Literally, you took down the free speech of the Department of State,” Issa said.
Wray, in response, said the SBU is a “longstanding good partner” of the FBI. When Russian troops invaded Ukraine, cutting off the latter country’s communication, the SBU asked the FBI to contact U.S. companies on their behalf, Wray explained.
Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., questioned before the hearing what is happening inside American agencies, claiming leadership of these agencies is either incompetent or corrupt altogether.
“We have to start holding them accountable,” Spartz said. “You know, look at the Durham report. Years of investigations. No one remembers anything, we couldn’t press any charges and no one went to jail. So there is no accountability. And we have to do better.”
However, Democrats have said the hearing itself is politically motivated. New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, the ranking Democrat on the committee, on Wednesday called it an “elaborate show” designed to shield Donald Trump from the consequences of his actions, and help the former president return to the White House.
“Today, House Republicans will attack the FBI for having had the audacity to treat Donald Trump like any other citizen,” Nadler said at the hearing. “The FBI dared to hold Trump accountable, so Republicans must discredit them at all costs.”
Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee asked Wray about threats faced by the agency after it investigated Trump. Wray said the agency did stand up a dedicated unit on these threats to employees and facilities.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.