WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump lashed out Tuesday at FBI Director Christopher Wray, expressing dissatisfaction that Wray didn't cast a watchdog report on the origins of the Russia investigation as devastating for the bureau.
In an interview with The Associated Press Monday, Wray acknowledged the report had identified significant problems with how agents conducted the investigation into ties between Russia and his 2016 campaign and pledged to make changes. But Wray also characterized as ïmportant" that Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that the Russia investigation was opened for a proper cause and was not affected by political bias.
Wray told ABC News in a separate interview that he did not believe the Trump campaign had been unfairly targeted. The FBI also issued a statement stressing that the report “does not impugn the FBI's institutional credibility."
That provoked a sharp reaction from Trump on Twitter.
“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. “With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men & women working there!"
The tweet was a rare direct attack on Wray, who has largely been spared the public ire Trump vented at former FBI Director James Comey — whom he fired in May 2017 — and at Andrew McCabe, who temporarily replaced Comey but was later fired by the Justice Department. Wray inherited a year-old Russia investigation when he was installed in August 2017 and, by that point, the probe was already in the hands of special counsel Robert Mueller.
Wray, for his part, has kept a mostly low profile, rarely speaking in depth about the Russia investigation that he inherited or engaging in public conflicts with a White House that harbors skepticism about perceived political bias in the U.S. intelligence community.
Though he has appeared loath to respond aloud to Trump's criticism of the FBI, he has also defended the interests of the bureau even when it has put him at odds with the president. He has said that he does not believe that Mueller's investigation was a “witch hunt," as Trump has insisted, and he resisted efforts last year by the White House and congressional Republicans to declassify information from the Russia probe that was subsequently released.
Wray struck a similar balance in his comments on Monday, seizing on findings from the inspector general favorable to the FBI while also making a point to highlight the significant problems that it found. Those issues, Wray told AP, were “unacceptable and unrepresentative of who we are as an institution."
Wray told AP that the FBI would change how it handles confidential informants, how it applies for warrants from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, how it conducts briefings on foreign influence for presidential nominees and how it structures sensitive investigations like the 2016 Russia probe. He said he has also reinstated ethics training. In total, the FBI is implementing more than 40 changes, he said.
“I am very committed to the FBI being agile in its tackling of foreign threats,” Wray said. “But I believe you can be agile and still scrupulously follow our rules, policies and processes.”
He said that though it was important to not lose sight of the fact that Horowitz found the investigation justified and did not find it to be tainted by political bias, “The American people rightly expect that the FBI, when it acts to protect the country, is going to do it right — each time, every time.
“And,” he added, "urgency is not an excuse for not following our procedures.”
The report found that the FBI was justified in opening its investigation in the summer of 2016 into whether the Trump campaign was coordinating with Russia to tip the election in the president's favor. But it also identified “serious performance failures” up the bureau's chain of command, including 17 “significant inaccuracies or omissions” in applications for a warrant from the surveillance court to monitor the communications of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and subsequent warrant renewals.
The errors, the watchdog said, resulted in “applications that made it appear that the information supporting probable cause was stronger than was actually the case.”
Wray declined to say if there was one problem or criticism that he found most troubling, but noted, “As a general matter, there are a number of things in the report that in my view are unacceptable and unrepresentative of who we are as an institution."
“This is a serious report,” he added, “and we take it serious.”