Last fall, NBC News reported that Donald Trump has been known to privately complain about his FBI chief, believing that Wray is “not protecting his interests.” The president’s concerns are suddenly a lot less private.
Donald Trump told reporters Tuesday he “didn’t understand” FBI Director Christopher Wray’s “ridiculous” answer that the FBI didn’t spy when looking into then-candidate Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 election.
“I didn’t understand [Wray’s] answer,” Trump told reporters on the White House lawn. “I thought the attorney general answered it perfectly. So I certainly didn’t understand that answer. I thought it was a ridiculous answer.”
Circling back to our previous coverage, the story began in earnest about a month ago when Attorney General Bill Barr told a Senate committee “spying did occur” by the government on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Barr added, “I think spying on a political campaign – it’s a big deal, it’s a big deal.”
Despite the dubious and needlessly provocative nature of the attorney general’s comments – which he’s refused to retract – Republicans seized on Barr’s assessment, with the president’s re-election campaign even using his “spying” talk as the basis for political fundraising.
The FBI’s Chris Wray, however, took a more responsible stand during congressional testimony last week, making clear he was uncomfortable with the attorney general’s rhetoric.
For his trouble, the bureau’s director quickly found himself in the president’s crosshairs: Trump tweeted over the weekend that the FBI “has no leadership,” which was a rather pointed shot given that Trump was the one who handpicked Wray for the job. This morning, the president took another swing, despite the fact that there was nothing “ridiculous” about Wray’s testimony.
This might be a simple political dynamic in which Trump, true to form, simply expects federal enforcement to be an extension of the White House political operation, leaving the president to bristle when his own FBI chief fails to follow the partisan script.
But let’s not discount the possibility of a more complex situation. For example, it’s possible that Wray is involved in the counter-intelligence investigation into Team Trump, which may help explain what’s fueling the president’s offensive against him.
Speculation aside, the friction between Trump and the FBI director is getting worse, not better.
Postscript: The way in which Trump introduced Wray as his choice to lead the FBI set the stage for their awkward relationship. 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.