Trump's troubles with his own handpicked FBI director reach new stage

Image: US-POLITICS-FBI-WRAY
Christopher Wray testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on his nomination to be the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the Dirksen...

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz's report on the investigation into the Russia scandal was mostly, but not entirely, good news for the FBI. On the one hand, Horowitz found that the bureau and its leadership acted appropriately in launching its probe, and the FBI's handling of the matter wasn't tainted by partisan or political bias.

On the other hand, the inspector general also found bureau officials made mistakes in parts of its application to monitor Carter Page, the controversial Trump campaign adviser with close ties to the Kremlin. It's sparked new discussion about reforming the process through which law enforcement seeks investigatory authority under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

For his part, FBI Director Christopher Wray appears to have responded to the findings in a constructive way, ordering a series of "corrective steps to address the report's recommendations." Wray also did an interview in which he took a degree of pride in the core findings of the Horowitz investigation.

Wray, reacting to the release of the IG report in an interview with ABC News, said that one key takeaway for him was that "the Inspector General did not find political bias or improper motivations impacting the opening of the investigation or the decision to use certain investigative tools during the investigations."

In the same interview, the FBI director said, in response to a question about a popular Republican conspiracy theory, "We have no information that indicates that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 presidential election.... Well, look, there's all kinds of people saying all kinds of things out there. I think it's important for the American people to be thoughtful consumers of information and to think about the sources of it and to think about the support and predication for what they hear."

In other words, Wray said the opposite of what Donald Trump wanted him to say -- a development that did not go unnoticed in the White House.

"I don't know what report current Director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading," the president tweeted this morning, "but it sure wasn't the one given to me. With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men & women working there!"

Given the fact that Trump has already fired one FBI director for political reasons, it's probably worth pausing to unpack this presidential tweet, because it may prove to be important.

First, describing Chris Wray as the "current" director of the FBI suggests he probably shouldn't make any long-term plans for his future in the nation's capital.

Second, I found it amusing that Trump wants people to believe he read the full, 434-page report from the Justice Department inspector general's office, and that his interpretation of the document's findings are superior to Wray's.

Third, it was just last week that Attorney General Bill Barr suggested those who fail to show proper respect for law enforcement may not deserve the protection of law enforcement. As the president attacks the FBI director for no reason, are we to assume the attorney general will apply these same principles to the president?

Fourth, Trump's assertion that Wray "will never be able to fix the FBI" suggests his ouster is a real possibility, and the president accusing the FBI of being "badly broken" suggests his offensive against federal law enforcement will continue, despite yesterday's findings.

Finally, none of this is coming out of the blue. Trump's hostility toward the man he handpicked to lead the FBI has been simmering for months, and when asked in June whether he has confidence in Wray, the president hedged.

If Trump hoped to pressure the FBI director into becoming a more reliable partisan ally to the president's political operation, it apparently didn't work.