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Republicans want answers from FBI Director Wray in their push for Biden probes

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray is expected to face a wide range of questions from GOP lawmakers on the House Judiciary panel who argue his agency has been weaponized against political opponents. Wray was nominated by former President Trump.
Chip Somodevilla
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Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray is expected to face a wide range of questions from GOP lawmakers on the House Judiciary panel who argue his agency has been weaponized against political opponents. Wray was nominated by former President Trump.

FBI Director Christopher Wray will be on the hot seat before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning, as Chairman Jim Jordan focuses on the agency's handling of investigations surrounding President Biden's son Hunter and current federal charges against former President Donald Trump.

The hearing is billed as an oversight session of the agency, but Jordan and other GOP members of the panel are expected to reiterate their belief that the FBI has been "weaponized" by political appointees to focus on Trump and other conservatives, while the president's son and other Democrats are not pursued as aggressively.

In an excerpt from his prepared statement to the panel, Wray said the FBI protects the country "from a staggering array of threats."

"The work the men and women of the FBI do to protect the American people goes way beyond the one or two investigations that seem to capture all the headlines," the statement said. He gave as examples the bureau's work against violent crime, illegal drugs and intellectual property theft.

Recently David Weiss, the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney in Delaware, announced aplea deal following a five-year investigation of Hunter Biden. Biden was charged with two misdemeanor tax violations and a firearms offense. GOP lawmakers forcefully criticized the agreement, calling it a "sweetheart deal" and said it did not reflect the full evidence developed by government investigators.

"There's a host of problems," Jordan said in an interview on Fox on Monday about the FBI, when asked what he would focus on in Wednesday's hearing. He cited information reported by whistleblowers about agency practices, the treatment of parents by law enforcement officials during COVID, and questions about the federal program known as FISA — the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — which expires at the end of the year and conducts surveillance of foreign entities for national security reasons.

Three House panels step up Hunter Biden probe

The Judiciary hearing is part of a three-pronged probe — along with the House Oversight and Ways and Means committees — to look at various aspects of Hunter Biden's legal issues related to his tax returns and his business ties to foreign companies in Ukraine and China. Oversight Chairman Jim Comer says his focus is the president, but he has not produced any evidence that President Biden received any payments related to his son's business dealings, or that he engaged in any improper activity during his time as vice president or afterward.

Jordan and other allies of Trump have slammed the FBI for its role in the investigation of theformer president's alleged mishandling of classified documentsso Wray is likely to face questions about that issue.

Comer says his probe looks at "the Biden family business," citing whistleblowers who say they have evidence that Hunter Biden coordinated with his father on business dealings and these enriched multiple members of the family. Comer recently threatened Wray with contempt of Congress if he didn't turn over internal FBI reports related to the agency's probe of Hunter Biden.

But one whistleblower that Comer has named publicly as having evidence about Hunter Biden's dealings with foreign businesses, Gal Luft, was indicted by the Justice Department on Monday. In an eight-count indictment, Justice alleges that Luft acted as an unregistered foreign agent, engaged in arms trafficking and made false statements to federal agents. Luft, who is a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, was arrested in February in Cyprus, but fled and remains a fugitive, according to the Justice Department.

The indictment states that Luft worked with the Chinese government without registering as a foreign agent to broker the sale of arms from China to Libya, to the United Arab Emirates, and to Kenya. It also says Luft conspired to sell Iranian oil to a Chinese energy company.

On Monday the Congressional Integrity Project, a liberal advocacy group set up to push back against GOP probes, released a reportof the first six months of House Republican oversight efforts. Kyle Herring, the executive director of the group, said the House GOP didn't have a lot to show for their probes: "Rather than working across the aisle to address the issues keeping Americans up at night - like health care, gun violence, and the economy - James Comer, Jim Jordan, and their MAGA colleagues have wasted half a year pursuing conspiracy theories and spouting nonsense on Fox News."

IRS whistleblower tells GOP panel Hunter Biden probe was "slow walked"

The House Ways and Means Committee voted last month to release closed-door testimony from a two whistleblowers who were involved in the government's investigation of Hunter Biden.

Gary Shapley, a 14-year veteran IRS investigator, told the panelin a deposition in May that agency managers "slow walked" the examination of several years' worth of tax violations and gave preferential political treatment to Hunter Biden. Shapley also recounted a meeting with Weiss, who he says asked for, but was denied, special counsel designation to decide how to proceed with any potential charges in the case.

But Weiss sent a letter to the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Monday that specified that he wanted to "clarify an apparent misperception and to avoid future confusion," and stated he did not request the designation but had discussions with Justice Department officials about his authority to file charges in a jurisdiction outside his own. Weiss wrote he has "never been denied the authority to bring charges in any jurisdiction." Jordan signaled in a tweet he as skeptical of Weiss' claim.

And House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday that he wants Weiss to come and answer questions about the Hunter Biden probe and said Weiss' letter on the probe was not sufficient.

Following Shapley and another unnamed whistleblower's allegations about various agencies' handling of the investigation, Comer has requested transcribed interviews with Weiss and about a dozen other officials with the IRS, FBI and Secret Service. Since Weiss has said his probe is ongoing he's not expected to agree to appear until the matter is concluded.

GOP effort to defund the FBI

Jordan and other critics of the FBI plan to use the upcoming debate over federal spending bills to block money for some FBI programs and costs, including a planned new headquarters for the agency. Lawmakers from Maryland and Virginia have been lobbying to secure a spot in the suburbs outside D.C. for the new facility.

In a letter to the House Appropriations Chair Kay Granger on Tuesday, Jordan recommended that the annual bill funding the Justice Department "eliminate any funding for the FBI that is not absolutely essential for the agency to execute its mission, including as a starting point eliminating taxpayer funding for any new FBI headquarter facility and instead examining options for relocating the FBI's headquarters outside of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area." Jordan also asked that the spending bill prohibit "retaliation against FBI whistleblowers, including by prohibiting taxpayer dollars from being used to pay the salary of any Justice Department or FBI employee who is found to have retaliated against a whistleblower."

Since spending bills will need bipartisan votes to clear the House and Senate and be signed into law by the president, the push to zero-out money for FBI priorities will face an uphill battle. But it is part of a growing public effort to push back at the agency, which has become a lightening rod among the GOP base.

House GOP considers impeaching Attorney General Garland

Speaker McCarthy has floated the possibility of opening an impeachment inquiry of Attorney General Merrick Garland if the Justice Department failed to turn over materials that House panels have requested. This move follows months of GOP lawmakers criticizing Garland for what they believe is a "two-tiered" system of handling investigations of Republicans and Democrats, and in the wake of the Hunter Biden plea deal.

Wray has also come under attack from some GOP lawmakers and 2024 presidential candidates. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said shortly after he announced his 2024 presidential nomination bid that hewould fire Wrayif he's elected to the White House. Wray was appointed by Trump in 2017. FBI directors' terms are 10 years long unless they resign, retire or are removed.

Garland isn't the only Biden cabinet official that House Republicans are considering removing. Many conservatives are pressing to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and the House opened an impeachment inquiry of President Biden in June, related to GOP arguments he's failed to enforce immigration laws.

But House Republicans are split on efforts to remove the president or members of his cabinet. While far-right conservatives insist it's time to vote soon to remove one or more officials, more moderate GOP lawmakers tell NPR it's important to build a case that an official is guilty of misconduct. Multiple GOP members say the party base is eager for the House to vote to impeach the president and others as payback for the two impeachment votes against Trump, but the speaker has made it clear the House will pursue any impeachment probe through regular order — holding hearings and considering evidence through the appropriate committees, before holding any vote on the House floor.

NPR's Carrie Johnson contributed to this report.

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Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.