Republicans grilled FBI Director Christopher Wray during a House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, but as one might have anticipated from prior testimony, Wray gave his typical “answer but not answer” responses.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) pointed out how Wray and the FBI seemed incredibly uncurious about investigating the Bidens, yet, then had all kinds of illegal FISA queries to surveil other American citizens. Gaetz said the Inspector General reported more than a million of these illegal queries. He also grilled Wray over whether he’d perjured himself to Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the FISA inquiries related to Jan. 6.
The Florida congressman explained how the court has smacked the FBI down finding the “FBI personnel apparently conducted queries for improper personal reasons.” Gaetz termed it their own “creepy personal snoop machine.”
Democrats like Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) came to the defense of the Bidens regarding Hunter Biden’s laptop, trying to cast this as looking into a “private citizen’s consensual nudes.” Rather than grilling the FBI about their bad behavior, he gave them a tongue bath, asking Wray what happens at their “Family Day.” Wray responded in what sounded like a rehearsed answer.
But there were a couple of interesting moments where even the Democrats asked some important questions about the problematic behavior of the FBI and seemed to acknowledge there was a problem.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) got right into one of the problems, asking “Is the FBI purchasing location data from commercial sources without a warrant?”
Now you would think that would be a simple question to answer, right? Assuming the FBI wasn’t violating the rights of Americans, as they had been with their illegal FISA inquiries. The answer should be no, we would never do that. But listen to Wray’s response. Essentially, “It’s complicated.”
Democrat Rep. Zoe Lofgren: "Is the FBI purchasing location data from commercial sources without a warrant?!"— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) July 12, 2023
FBI DIRECTOR WRAY: "I'll have my staff follow back up with you…" pic.twitter.com/XrFncf1qPm
Wray said that his answer required more “context” so he asked if he could “let my staff follow back up with you.” Translation: let me try to tell you something out of the hearing of the American people.
Lofgren asked about the 702 queries that are done under FISA without a warrant. He replied they don’t need a warrant, which is true. That isn’t the point, the point was all the improper queries, which Gaetz said were about a million. That didn’t seem to bother Wray at all.
Lofgren finished by saying the Committee would be looking into this, and you could hear Chair Jim Jordan echo “Sure will” in the background. Nice to hear some unity to ferret out this bad behavior.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) also went after Wray on this subject and warned that the FBI could face a “difficult process” to get FISA reapproved. She pointed out how his prior Senate testimony contradicted what the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was saying.
“I do want to focus on some areas of concern around Americans’ civil liberties that I have had long-standing concerns about,” Jayapal told Wray as she began her questioning. The congresswoman noted testimony he gave the Senate Intelligence Committee in March that the FBI doesn’t currently purchase commercial data on U.S. citizens, but also referenced a declassified report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) that said the opposite.
Well this line of questioning from Jayapal was a surprise pic.twitter.com/UOLXqSv0EV— Karli Bonne’ 🇺🇸 (@KarliBonnita) July 12, 2023
Wray then tried to play that same game that it “gets very involved to explain” so let my staff tell you later “because there’s a lot of confusion that can be unintentionally caused about this topic.”
Jayapal wasn’t having that, “But does the FBI purchase data?”
Wray claimed his testimony was the same. He still didn’t answer the question.
Jayapal said, “But I am looking at a report that is from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence saying that the FBI purchases data,” Jayapal said.
“I understand that,” Wray said.
“While I understand that that’s complicated, that is the reason that you come before us so that the American people can hear this,” she said.
Jayapal went on to question Wray about any written policies the FBI might have to outline “how it can purchase and use commercially available information,” but Wray insisted his response would be part of the same briefing he offered in his previous answer.
Jayapal cited a Supreme Court case that found it was “a violation of the Fourth Amendment for the government to access historical location data without a warrant,” and said she would follow up with Wray on whether the FBI had a written policy on how it interprets that decision.
“This is a critically important issue for the American people to understand. We have bipartisan support around FISA reauthorization and the concerns we have around FISA reauthorization. And unless we really understand what measures the FBI is taking to ensure that people’s privacy is protected, I think it’s going to be a very difficult reauthorization process. I’m sure you know that,” Jayapal said.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, thanked Jayapal for her questioning, calling it “well said.”
Now that’s what members of Congress are supposed to do — nice to see Democratic members willing to go there for once and call out the abuses.