Trump attacks FBI Director Christopher Wray over IG report, Russia investigation

David Jackson and Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – Pushing his own interpretation of a new report on the origins of the Russia investigation, President Donald Trump on Tuesday appeared to threaten FBI Director Christopher Wray for drawing different conclusions.

"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 tweeted about the Justice Department findings.

"With that kind of attitude," Trump added, Wray "will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men & women working there!"

Responding to the report by the Justice Department's inspector general released Monday, Wray implicitly disputed Trump's claims that federal authorities mounted a "coup" attempt against him by investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

“I think it’s important that the inspector general found that, in this particular instance, the investigation was opened with appropriate predication and authorization,” Wray told ABC News.

Asked if he thought Trump's campaign was unfairly targeted in the Russia investigation, Wray said: “I do not.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray

The FBI declined comment on Trump's remarks Tuesday.

Hours after Trump's broadside, Attorney General William Barr said he supported the FBI director, though he also stepped up his criticism of the inspector general's report, maintaining – like Trump – that the Russia investigation was not justified. Barr, in an interview with NBC News, then went further to suggest the FBI may have acted in “bad faith” in pursuing the inquiry.

The attorney general's remarks not only put him at odds with the inspector general, but also with Wray. On Monday, the FBI affirmed the inspector general's conclusions that there was legal basis for opening the Russia investigation and that there was "no evidence that political bias or improper motivation impacted the opening of these investigations."

Barr said serious failures uncovered in FBI’s surveillance of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page "leaves open the possibility that there was bad faith” by the FBI.

Still, Barr stood by Wray, saying the director, who took office in 2017 following the abrupt dismissal of James Comey, "has been working hard to address the problems in the past"

"He's brought in a good team," Barr told NBC. "I have confidence in that team. But we can’t ignore the abuses of the past and appear to justify them or minimize them."

Asked directly whether he still had confidence in the FBI director, the attorney general said, "Yes."

The attorney general's vote of confidence built on similar support he expressed just a day before, following release of the inspector general's report.

“I have full confidence in Director Wray and his team at the FBI, as well as the thousands of dedicated line agents who work tirelessly to protect our country,” Barr said Monday in a written statement. 

Barr noted that the FBI director is proposing a "comprehensive set of proposed reforms" for the agency, and "I look forward to working with him to implement these and any other appropriate measures.”

In the report issued Monday, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz sharply criticized the FBI's surveillance of Page but also said the overall investigation into Russian election interference was justified.

The Russia investigation included claims Trump sought to obstruct justice in the investigation – in part by his 2017 decision to fire Comey.

The Horowitz report said prosecutors did not reach a legal conclusion as to whether Trump obstructed justice. But it did criticize many of the president's actions as "unusual," and said that "many of the president's acts directed at witnesses, including discouragement of cooperation with the government and suggestions of possible future pardons, took place in public view."

In the wake of the new IG report, Trump and his allies have focused largely on broad criticism of the surveillance of Page.

Barr specifically faulted the FBI for "ignoring or withholding critical exculpatory information" as they justified surveillance of the former Trump aide. 

Trump's critics, meanwhile, pointed to Horowitz's finding that the FBI was legally justified in launching its inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, and that it was not driven by political bias against Trump. 

There was no "documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the FBI’s decision to conduct these operations," the report said.

In morning tweets, Trump also noted the origins of the Russia investigation are still being investigated by Connecticut federal prosecutor John Durham, whose work is being overseen by Barr. That review is now proceeding as a criminal investigation.

On Monday, Barr said the scope of Durham's investigation is broad and likely to continue through late spring or early summer.

"Durham is looking at the whole waterfront," Barr said.

Separately, Barr stopped short of joining Trump and his Republican allies in claiming that Ukraine, along with Russia, interfered in the 2016 election.

Barr said he was confident of Russia's participation but had not looked at the possibility of Ukraine's involvement. The uncertainty of Ukraine's involvement also put the attorney general at odds with the FBI director.

In his ABC interview, Wray flatly disputed the notion saying there is no evidence that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election the way Russia did.

Trump's dealings with Ukraine are at the root of fast-moving impeachment investigation.

On Tuesday, House Democrats unveiled articles of impeachment, accusing Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, setting up a constitutional clash between the two branches of government that has only happened three times before.

The accusations closely track the Intelligence Committee's findings that Trump withheld a meeting and military aid from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky while pressuring his counterpart to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Trump's unusual criticism of Wray comes as the director has been quietly moving to boost morale and recruiting efforts throughout the agency in the past two years.

Last year, the FBI received 35,000 applications from prospective agents and analysts, more than triple the number in previous years, according to bureau records.

An October survey measuring public trust in government agencies by the Pew Research Center also ranked the FBI in the top five of 16 agencies reviewed, indicating that 70% of those surveyed expressed a favorable view of the bureau.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump attacks FBI Director Christopher Wray over IG report, Russia