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FBI's Chris Wray says what the White House doesn't want to hear

It's hard not to wonder how much longer Trump will tolerate Chris Wray's reluctance to toe the White House line.
Image: Christopher Wray testifies on Capitol Hill
Christopher Wray testifies on Capitol Hill on Sept. 17, 2020.John McDonnell / AFP - Getty Images

Donald Trump and his team would have Americans believe that Antifa is a powerful national group responsible for targeted violent incidents. FBI Director Chris Wray told lawmakers yesterday that Antifa as "more of an ideology than an organization."

The president has demonstrated indifference toward white supremacists and other domestic right-wing extremists. Wray testified on Capitol Hill yesterday that in recent years, most domestic terror threats are the result of "racially motivated violent extremism," mostly from white supremacists.

And Team Trump is eager, if not desperate, to pretend Russian efforts to interfere in our elections on Republicans' behalf are unimportant. The man the president tapped to lead the FBI doesn't agree with that, either. Politico reported overnight:

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Thursday described “very active efforts” by Russia to interfere in the 2020 election, primarily by working to damage former Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Wray said Russians have been using social media, as well as “proxies, state media, online journals" and other vehicles to hurt Biden and what it views as anti-Russian factions in U.S. politics.

The Kremlin's goal, Wray testified, is to "denigrate" the Democratic candidate ahead of the 2020 elections.

To be sure, there was nothing especially surprising about the FBI director's testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee, which was holding a hearing on domestic threats. On the contrary, Wray's comments on Antifa, white-supremacist threats, and Russia election targeting was entirely in line with months of open-source reporting to the public.

But what made the testimony notable was Wray's willingness to ignore the White House's preferred political script. The president has left little doubt what he expects his team to say -- without regard for what's true -- and the man Trump chose to lead the bureau told the truth anyway.

On Twitter last night, the president made his dissatisfaction known. Referencing a video featuring Wray describing Russian efforts against Biden, Trump wrote, "But Chris, you don’t see any activity from China, even though it is a FAR greater threat than Russia, Russia, Russia. They will both, plus others, be able to interfere in our 2020 Election with our totally vulnerable Unsolicited (Counterfeit?) Ballot Scam. Check it out!"

None of this reflected reality in any meaningful way. For example, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, China isn't doing more than Russia to target our elections. What's more, the United States' electoral system isn't "totally vulnerable," there's literally no evidence of "counterfeit" balloting, and there is no "scam" to "check out."

That said, Trump's lies aren't what's interesting about this. Rather, there are two far more relevant points.

First, the president sure does seem eager to downplay the Kremlin's efforts to intervene again on his behalf.

And second, it's hard not to wonder how much longer Trump will tolerate Wray's reluctance to toe the White House line. During a Fox Business interview last month, the president suggested he had nothing to do with nominating his own FBI director. Asked if Wray should step down, Trump said, "Let’s see how Wray turns out. He’s going to either turn out one way or the other."

The president has already fired one FBI director; no one should be surprised if he fires another.