Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) on Tuesday grilled FBI Director Christopher Wray over Donald Trump’s access to information about the Russia investigation, noting his ability to declassify Devin Nunes’ anti-FBI memo, while technically legal, may present a conflict for the Department of Justice’s probe.
Harris began her line of questioning during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing by delivering an impassioned defense of the intelligence community against relentless attacks by Trump and his supporters.
“I am concerned that the political attacks against the men and women of your agency may have had an effect on your ability to recruit, retain and also the morale of those agencies,” Harris said.
“So I would like to emphasize the point that we all, I think, share in making, which is we thank the men and women of your agencies for selfless work. They do it on behalf of the American people without any expectation of award or reward, and we cannot thank them enough for keeping us safe.”
Harris then turned to Trump’s decision to declassify the Nunes memo, which alleged surveillance abuses by the FBI tangentially related to the Russia investigation.
“According to the White House statement, the president was the one that authorized the memo’s declassification,” Harris said. “Do you believe there’s an actual, or at least appearance, of a conflict of interest when the president is put in charge of declassifying information that could complicate an ongoing investigation into his own campaign?”
Wray said the FBI has “been very clear” about its view of the “disclosure and accuracy of the memo in question,” but said it falls under the president’s job description to “object or not to declassification.”
“I think that is the president’s responsibility,” Wray said.
“Regardless of whether there’s an appearance of, or actual, conflict of interest?” Harris pressed.
“I leave it to others to characterize whether there’s appearance or conflict of interest, but I think the president was fulfilling his responsibility in that situation,” Wray insisted.
Harris asked if Wray would present “additional sensitive FBI information on the investigations into his campaign” if the president asked for such documents. Wray pledged he would not “discuss the investigation in question with the president, much less provide information from that investigation to him.”
“And if he received that information and wanted to declassify it, would he have the ability to do that from your perspective … however he received it, perhaps from members of the United States Congress?” Harris continued.
“I think legally he would have that ability,” Wray suggested.
The Democratic senator asked if Trump “should recuse himself from reviewing and declassifying sensitive material related to this investigation?”
Wray said he leaves recusal questions to other people.
Harris later asked Wray if the FBI has done legal analysis on the questions she presented. After the FBI Director joked that he now gets to “blame lawyers for things instead of being the lawyer that gets blamed,” Harris asked, “have you blamed any lawyers for their analysis of this issue?”
“I have not yet, no,” Wray admitted.