Last fall, NBC News reported that Donald Trump has been known to privately complain about his FBI chief, arguing behind the scenes that Chris Wray was “not protecting his interests.” The president’s dissatisfaction has become far more overt of late.
A month ago, for example, Trump whined via Twitter that the FBI “has no leadership,” a not-so-subtle shot at the man he handpicked to oversee the bureau. Two days later, the president complained that it was “ridiculous” for Wray to balk at the White House’s conspiracy theory about the Trump campaign being spied on in 2016.
Reminded this week that Wray has encouraged Americans aware of foreign efforts to intervene in our elections to contact federal law enforcement, Trump declared, “The FBI director is wrong.” (The FBI was not, in reality, wrong.)
This was, of course, part of the same interview in which the president personally invited foreign intervention in American elections, saying that if foreign countries have information that might benefit his re-election effort, “I think I’d take it.”
Politico reported overnight that with his bizarre comments, Trump “undercut” months of work at the bureau.
[Trump’s] comments, according to interviews with nearly a dozen law enforcement veterans, have undone months of work, essentially inviting foreign spies to meddle with 2020 presidential campaigns and demoralizing the agents trying to stop them.
And it has backed Wray into a corner, they added, putting him in a position where he might have to either publicly chastise the president and risk getting fired, or resign in protest.
Jim Baker, the FBI’s former general counsel, told Politico, in reference to FBI leaders who saw Trump’s interview, “I don’t think they should run for the exits right away, but they can’t just ignore this one. This is potentially encouraging criminal activity and undermining federal law.”
Don’t brush past that one too quickly: the former top lawyer at the FBI believes the sitting president may have encouraged others to commit federal crimes.
For now, Wray has said nothing, at least publicly. Perhaps he’s counting on Trump’s latest outrage to slowly fade, making way for the president’s next one.
But if Trump is undermining the FBI’s work, and publicly cutting off the FBI director at the knees, Wray’s silence may not be a credible option.
Postscript: From time to time, I like to point out the awkward circumstances in which Trump chose Wray for the gig. As regular readers may recall, when the president tweeted the news, the White House had nothing prepared on Wray or the decision. Neither did the FBI or the Justice Department. Key lawmakers on Capitol Hill, whom you’d expect to be in the loop, were caught completely off guard.
According to a Politico report, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) told Trump that Wray would make a good choice, and the president impulsively agreed without telling anyone. According to White House sources, Trump was “simply tired” of looking for James Comey’s replacement, so he went with Christie’s recommendation.