Sen. John Kennedy questioned FBI Director Christopher Wray during testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday about the underlying predicate for the bureau's investigation into then-candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 election.
"The special counsel's report goes through a fair amount of detail about the predication for its investigation," Wray said. "Beyond that, as I mentioned to the chairman, I have had a number of conversations and am working to help the attorney general get to the bottom of an understanding of what the circumstances surrounding the initiation of that investigation were at the department and the FBI back in 2016."
Sen. Kennedy asked an interesting follow-up: "The president could declassify, with proper redaction, all of the documents at the FBI pertaining to the 2016 investigations of Secretary Clinton and President Trump, and then let the American people see them and draw their own conclusions. Why don't we do that?"
Wray said to do so would compromise sources and methods, but that the FBI has tried to learn lessons from the Clinton email investigation and would learn from the DOJ inspector general's report about the pending Trump investigation.
SEN. JOHN KENNEDY: I want to talk to you for a second about 2016. I think we can agree that, at least this is my opinion, that the FBI is the premier law enforcement agency and all of human history. And I think most Americans and most of our friends across the world believe that as well. Unfortunately, there has been created a perception that given the two investigations of presidential candidates in 2016 that some members of the FBI allegedly acted on their political beliefs and I think it is important that we get rid of that perception.
We have forgotten also that there were two investigations. There was an investigation of President Trump but also an investigation of Secretary Clinton. Has the F--I know the inspector general has--has weighed in on the Clinton investigation and he is weighing in on the Trump investigation. But aside from that can you tell me what the factual predicate was for the investigation of Secretary Clinton and her alleged email scandal?
FBI DIRECTOR CHRIS WRAY: I don't know that I can say sitting here today what the predicate is. As you mention the independent inspector general did a fairly intense and rigorous and thorough investigation of that investigation and provided a pretty long report and testified in front of multiple committees of Congress about it. There were a lot of important lessons learned from that and I think we be FBI and I at the helm took those lessons very much to heart a immediately. Some of them we already--
KENNEDY: Sorry to interrupt you Mr. Director but I'm going to run out of time and I don't want to do that. Can you tell me what the factual predicate was for the investigation of President Trump?
WRAY: Well, the special counsel's report goes through a fair amount of detail about the predication for its investigation. I think beyond that as I mentioned to the chairman, I have had a number of conversations and working to help the attorney general get to the bottom of an understanding of what the circumstances surrounding the initiation of that investigation were at the department and the FBI back in 2016.
KENNEDY: Why don't you just--I know you can do this on your own but the president can, the president could--could declassify with proper reduction all of the documents that the FBI pertaining to the 2016 investigation of Secretary Clinton and President Trump and then let the American people see them and draw their own conclusions? Why don't we do that?
WRAY: Well, without weighing on the legal question of authority certainly I would tell you that when we reject information or when we classify information there are a number of very, very important principles that are at stake there. Protection of sources and methods which without which Americans are less safe, protection of ongoing criminal investigations or other investigations without which the American people are less safe and there are various other legal issues implicated that go beyond just the power to declassify.
So while I think it is important that we be as transparent as we can be with the American people and certainly with the Congress, I also think it is very important to protect those kinds of information that are the lifeblood of our inability to fulfill our mission.
KENNEDY: What are we going to do then Mr. Director, how do we remove this perception that there were a handful of people at the FBI and at the Justice Department in 2016 that acted on their political beliefs and try to influence the election? How are we going to lance that boil and I'm talking about both with respect to the investigations of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump?
WRAY: So as to both matters one case already completed, the other case still underway there have been independent, so outside the FBI inspector general investigations that are professional, that are apolitical, that are rigorous, that are sometimes quite painful for the agency in question and we have taken a number of steps to learn those lessons from the Clinton email investigation, there have been personnel moves, training improvements, policy impairments, all sorts of things that I laid out in great depth last summer in response to that investigation. And I would expect that we will take to heart in a very similar way whatever lessons are conveyed through the other inspector general investigation which is pending.
But as to the perception I think it is important for the American people to understand and you alluded to it in your very helpful comments at the beginning that we are talking about two investigations, two investigations over about a 15 month period --as opposed to the thousands and thousands of investigations that the FBI does to keep Americans safe that are conducted by 37,000 men and women that in my experience are brave, professional, rigorous, thoughtful, and I think deserve better than some of the commentary that has been out there. And so, I appreciate your comments about the efforts in New Orleans where there have been some really remarkable efforts made. And I think it would be helpful for everyone to take a deep breath and remember that we've had more than two investigations over the last two years.