Speaking at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) accused the FBI of stonewalling information requests, expressing concern that, over the past four years, the agency hadn’t answered the majority of lawmakers’ questions in hearings involving FBI witnesses.
“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?” the Rhode Island senator said.
“I cannot,” Wray replied, prompting Whitehouse to press him on the matter.
“Are you going to do any better with the questions that we’re getting right now?” Whitehouse said. “You’ve 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?”
Wray said the process of answering for-the-record questions requires the FBI to go through “an elaborate interagency process” and that the agency is “required to comply with the interagency process to provide our responses to questions for the record.”
Dissatisfied with Wray’s response, Whitehouse complained that the FBI didn’t “seem to go through any interagency process” in response to some questions from Republicans about the investigation into the origins of the FBI’s probe into Russian interference into the 2016 election, which later morphed into former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into an alleged criminal conspiracy between Russian operatives and members of the Trump campaign.
Mueller’s probe, which former President Donald Trump denounced as a “witch hunt,” found insufficient evidence of any collusion.
“When it’s a question that’s suddenly of interest to one party and to President Trump, there seems to be a little side road that gets built around the traffic jam and stuff just flies right through,” he said. “So please don’t tell me about interagency process, when I’ve been sitting in this committee, watching FBI information get straight to this committee, without interagency process.”
Whitehouse then asked Wray whether he thinks “Congress deserves responses to questions from executive agencies as part of our oversight responsibility.”
“Yes, absolutely,” the FBI director replied, adding that he had added staff to “significantly” reduce the backlog of requests and the “turnaround time” for responding to them.
“Senator, I commit to working with you to try and see how we can improve our responsiveness and to getting you more of the information you need,” Wray said, although he insisted that his responsiveness to the committee or Congress overall was “absolutely” not affected by partisanship.
“I will commit to you that I will do what I can to improve the process. I am frustrated as you are, and obviously we need to get better,” he said.