FBI director set to clash with Republicans on the Trump case, Hunter Biden and more

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FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before the House Appropriations subcommittee Commerce, Justice Science, and Related Agencies budget hearing for Fiscal Year 2024, on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 27. 2023. Wray is set to face some of his harshest critics in Congress as he testifies before the House committee that is leading several investigations into claims that the law enforcement agency unfairly targets conservatives. (AP Photo/ Jose Luis Magana, File)

The director of the FBI will face some of his harshest critics in Congress on Wednesday as he testifies before a House committee that is leading several investigations into claims that the law enforcement agency unfairly targets conservatives.

FBI Director Chris Wray’s appearance before the House Judiciary Committee is expected to be contentious. Republicans are prepared to aggressively question the director on several fronts, including the recent indictment of former President Donald Trump, the ongoing investigation into President Joe Biden’s son and the push for a new FBI headquarters.

It’s just the latest display of the new normal on Capitol Hill, where Republicans who have long billed themselves as the champions of police and “law and order” are growing deeply at odds with federal law enforcement and the FBI, accusing the bureau of bias dating back to investigations of Trump when he was president. The new dynamic has forced Democrats into a new position of defending these law enforcement agencies they have long criticized.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has been laying the groundwork for Wray’s appearance since House Republicans took the majority in January.

Republicans have held hearings with former FBI agents, Twitter executives and federal officials to make the case that the FBI has been corruptly using its powers against Trump and the right. And they’ve formed a special committee on “weaponization” of government, also led by Jordan, to investigate abuse.

Wray’s trip to Capitol Hill comes just a few weeks after the president’s youngest son, Hunter Biden, reached an agreement with the Justice Department to plead guilty to misdemeanor tax offenses. Jordan and other GOP lawmakers slammed it as “a sweetheart deal” and the latest example of a “two-tiered justice system.”

Jordan and the leaders of the Oversight and Accountability and the Ways and Means committees quickly opened a joint investigation into the Hunter Biden case, citing testimony from two IRS whistleblowers on the case who say the Justice Department meddled with their work.

The claims from the whistleblowers are contested. The Justice Department has denied their allegations and said repeatedly that U.S. Attorney David Weiss in Delaware, the federal prosecutor who led the investigation, always had “full authority” over the case. Weiss was appointed to the job during the Trump administration.

Republicans have requested an interview with Weiss and other Justice Department officials but it is not likely they will come in until after the case is closed, in line with department policy.

Wray is also likely to face questions about the charges against Trump — the same man who nominated him to lead the FBI after firing James Comey in 2017. The Justice Department has accused the former president of illegally storing government secrets at his Florida estate and then refusing to give them back. Trump has pleaded not guilty to 37 felony charges.

Concerns around the FBI’s ongoing investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol are also top of mind for Republicans. Some say prosecutors have acted far too aggressively against those accused of breaching the Capitol.

With Republican criticism of the FBI at a high pitch, some of the party’s most conservative members are even pushing to cut off funding to the department altogether. Jordan has yet to go that far, but he is seeking to choke off funding for a new FBI headquarters.

In a letter to Rep. Kay Granger, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Jordan wrote that the appropriation bills should eliminate any funding set aside for a planned relocation of the FBI’s headquarters from Washington, D.C., to the suburbs. Instead, he said Congress should look at moving the FBI’s headquarters out of the D.C. region altogether.

“We also recommend tying funding for the FBI to specific policy changes — such as requiring the FBI to record interviews — that will promote accountability and transparency at the FBI,” Jordan wrote in the letter Tuesday.

Another focus of Wednesday’s hearing will be the push to reauthorize a program under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, that grants agencies like the FBI sweeping powers to surveil and examine communications of foreigners located outside the United States.

The provision of FISA known as Section 702 is set to expire at year’s end unless Congress agrees to renew it. But members of both parties are frustrated with the program, citing revelations about federal officials abusing the system.

Regardless, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are preparing a counteroffensive Wednesday to Republicans’ rhetoric against the FBI, making the case that it is GOP lawmakers who are weaponizing the power of congressional oversight to appease their base and the leader of their party.

“For Republicans, this hearing is little more than performance art. It is an elaborate show designed with only two purposes in mind: to protect Donald Trump from the consequences of his actions, and to return him to the White House in the next election,” Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the committee, is expected to say in his opening remarks.

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