WASHINGTON - FBI Director Christopher Wray defended the bureau on Monday against criticisms leveled by Republicans following a scathing inspector general report about its handling of the 2016 Hillary Clinton email server investigation.
Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee alongside the Justice Department's inspector general, Wray said the internal audit focused on the conduct of a “small number” of FBI employees during the email probe and did not reflect on the larger institution.
“Mistakes made by those employees do not define our 37,000 men and women and the great work they do every day,” Wray said. “Nothing in this report impugns the integrity of our workforce as a whole or the FBI as an institution.”
The FBI is determined to avoid repeating the mistakes identified in the 600-page report, Wray said, adding that he’d already started acting on some of its recommendations, including referring misconduct highlighted by the report to the bureau's disciplinary arm.
The comments followed the release last Thursday of the report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, on the FBI’s investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state.
Took to task former FBI head
The report blasted former FBI Director James Comey for “deviating” from long-standing policies and procedures during the investigation but said there was no evidence that “political bias” or other “improper considerations” had impacted the investigation.
The review also criticized five FBI employees involved in the investigation for exchanging anti-Trump and pro-Clinton text messages during the probe, including two senior officials -- Peter Strzok and Lisa Page -- who also worked for special counsel Robert Mueller, who is heading an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
The inspector general said that while he found no evidence that “improper considerations, including political bias,” influenced the Clinton email investigation, the messages “cast a cloud over the FBI’s handling of the investigation and the investigation’s credibility.”
Mueller removed Strzok from his team after the inspector general flagged the pair last August. Page left the team and resigned from the FBI last month.
President Donald Trump and his allies have seized on the report to renew their attack on the special counsel. In a Twitter message posted on Monday, Trump repeated a long-standing claim that the Mueller investigation was a “witch hunt.”
“Comey gave Strozk his marching orders. Mueller is Comey’s best friend. Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted.
Last week, Trump said told "Fox and Friends" that the report “totally exonerates me.”
“There was total bias when you look at Peter Strzok, what he said about me, when you look at Comey and all his moves,” Trump said.
Didn't focus on Mueller probe
The report did not focus on the Mueller investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. Democrats on the committee repeatedly urged the inspector general to make that point.
Horowitz said that the report focused on the FBI’s handling of the Clinton investigation and only briefly “touched on” the Russia investigation when investigators brought the text messages between Strzok and Page to the attention of the special counsel and learned that Strzok wanted to prioritize the Russia investigation over the Clinton probe.
Republican members of the committee cited the text messages to discredit the FBI and the Mueller investigators.
“There is a serious problem with the culture at FBI headquarters,” Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch said.
But Wray dismissed Trump’s repeated characterization of the investigation as a “witch hunt.”
“As I said to you last month and as I said before, I do not believe special counsel Mueller is on a witch hunt,” Wray said.