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Live Coverage as FBI Director Wray Testifies Before Senate Judiciary Committee; Questioning by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC); Questions Focus on January 6th Insurrectionists, Politics, Investigation. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 2, 2021 - 10:30   ET



CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: And I know a number of members of Congress, including a number on this committee, reached out and offered their condolences and offerings of support, and I want you to know how much that means to the FBI, how much it means to me personally.

Special Agents Laura Schwartzenberger and Dan Alfin sacrificed their lives that day, like far too many of our law enforcement brethren also killed in the line of duty. Their ultimate sacrifice was not in vain, it was to protect the American people, it was to protect each of us.

And it's why no matter what comes our way, our work to safeguard the rule of law to protect the American people and to uphold the Constitution goes on and will never stop.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today, I look forward to answering your questions.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): Thanks, Director.

We'll have seven-minute rounds for members to ask questions. Let me start. And as you said at the outset, we could spend the better part of a day or beyond that with all the topics of importance involving the FBI, but I really have to stay with the January 6th situation.

There's a lot of confusion about the planning and coordination by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in the days leading up to the attack on the Capitol.

I was surprised to learn the FBI did not issue a threat assessment before January 6th, especially because the FBI's Norfolk, Virginia field office had uncovered specific threats against members of Congress, maps of the tunnel system under the Capitol complex, and places to meet before traveling together to Washington.

I was also surprised to hear acting D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert Contee say that his information was only conveyed to the MPD in an e-mail at 7:00 p.m. the night before January 6th. Chief Contee acknowledged that the information was raw intelligence, but said he would think, quote, "Something as violent as an insurrection at the Capitol would warrant a phone call or something," close quote.

So it comes down to the basic question of what the FBI knew, when they knew it, whether they shared it, why this didn't rise to the level of a threat assessment.

WRAY: So, Mr. Chairman, I welcome the question. You touched on a number of points there. So first, let me say that we were, in the period leading up to January 6th, tracking a large amount of information about large numbers of people coming to participate in protests, and about the potential for violence.

The one specific piece of information that you referred to, the information from our Norfolk field office, has gotten a lot of attention. So this was what's called situational information report, was prepared by our Norfolk field office specifically for dissemination. It was, as you noted, raw, unverified, uncorroborated information that had been posted online.

And my understanding was that that information was quickly -- as in within an hour -- disseminated and communicated with our partners, including the U.S. Capitol Police, including Metro P.D., in not one, not two, but three different ways.

DURBIN: When -- can you be more specific about (ph) the timing?

WRAY: Sure, yes. Three different ways. So first there was an e-mail, as you said, to our Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes -- the Joint Terrorism Task Force includes task force officers specifically selected by their chiefs who participate on the Joint Terrorism Task Force for the very reason to be that chief's, that department's eyes and ears so that they get the information real-time, their departments do. So that's the first piece.

Second, in addition to the e-mail, verbally through the command post briefing that we had -- because we had stood up command posts, both in the Washington field office and at headquarters, and those command posts included, again, representatives of the relevant agencies, Capitol Police, MPD, et cetera -- verbally, the same information was walked through again.

And third, in addition to the e-mail, in addition to the verbal briefing at the command post, there was -- the information was posted on what we call LEAP, which is a law enforcement portal, which is made available to law enforcement not just here in the National Capital Region but all around the country.

Now, again, the information was raw, it was unverified. In a perfect world, we would have taken longer to be able to figure out whether it was reliable, but we made the judgment -- our folks made the judgment to get that information to the relevant people as quickly as possible, like I said, three different ways in order to leave as little as possible to chance.

Now, I didn't see the report myself even until after the 6th, but the way in which it handled, at least as I understand it, strikes me as consistent with our normal process.


DURBIN: Director Wray, was surprised to see that reporting that dozens of individuals on the terrorist screening database, also known as the Terrorist Watchlist, traveled to D.C. in the days leading up to the attack. I would have expected the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center to be aware of air travel by watchlisted individuals to the Washington, D.C. area.

Did the TSC notice an uptick in travel by watchlisted individuals before January 6th? If yes, what steps did they take or did the FBI take in more general terms, to make sure other departments and agencies knew these dangerous individuals were on the way to the capital?

WRAY: So when it comes to the Watchlist, I think there's a couple things I could say here today. So one is, I do know that in a number of instances, there were individuals on whom we had previously predicated investigations, that we saw getting ready to potentially travel. And these are not large numbers, but a handful of people.

And in those instances -- in a number of instances, we had agents in their home states or home cities approach those individuals, interview them. Even if we didn't have a basis to charge somebody, it dissuaded a number of those people from traveling.

I guess the second thing I would say is that sometimes there's a little confusion on the whole watchlisting concept. There's a true No Fly List, which is what applies to individuals who, under the rules, provide a threat to aviation itself.

And then there's what we sometimes refer to as selectees, which are individuals that can't necessarily be barred in the same way from traveling, but -- in which there's notice given to the agents investigating those individuals. And that information is then passed on.

So I -- those -- in a number of instances, that happened in the period leading up to the 6th. I don't have numbers for you, though.

DURBIN: I just have a minute left, but I want to address what I consider the next big lie after the lie that the president really won on November 3rd, President Trump. The next big lie appears to be the argument that somehow or another those were not Trump supporters who invaded the Capitol. It was -- made the rounds on the internet, right before they came into the building. It has been gaining momentum ever since.

I'd like to ask you, Director Wray, do you agree that the Capitol attack involved white supremacists and other violent extremists?

WRAY: Certainly the Capitol attack involved violent extremists. As I said, we the FBI consider this a form of domestic terrorism. It included a variety of backgrounds. Certainly there were quite a number -- we're seeing quite a number, as we're building out the cases on the individuals we've arrested for the violence, quite a number who -- what we would call sort of militia violent extremists.

So we've got a number who self-identify with, you know, the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers, things like that. We also have a couple of instances where we've already identified individuals involved in the criminal behavior who we would put in the racially motivated, violent extremists who advocate for what you would call sort of white supremacy. So there have been some of those individuals as well.

One of the things that's--


WRAY: -- happening as part of this is that as we build out the cases on the individuals when we arrest them for the violence, we're getting a richer and richer understanding of different people's motivations. But certainly, as I said, militia violent extremism, some instances of racially motivated violent extremism specifically advocating for the superiority of the white race.

DURBIN: Based on your investigation so far, do you have any evidence that the Capitol attack was organized by, quote, "fake Trump protestors"?

WRAY: We have not seen evidence of that at this stage, certainly.

DURBIN: Thank you.

Senator Grassley?

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R-IA): Yes. We all want to know what happened to Officer Brian Sicknick, tragic death as a result of that January 6th assault. There's been conflicting reports about his cause of death. Have you determined the exact cause of death? And is there a homicide investigation?

WRAY: So I'll take the last part of your question first. There is an ongoing investigation into his death. I have to be careful at this stage because it's ongoing, not to get out in front of it. But I certainly understand and respect and appreciate the keen interest in what happened to him. After all, he was here, protecting all of you. And as soon as there's information that we can appropriately share, we want to be able to do that. But at the moment, the investigation's still ongoing.

GRASSLEY: So does that mean, since the investigation's going on, you have not determined the exact cause of the death?

WRAY: That means we can't yet disclose a cause of death at this stage.

GRASSLEY: But you have determined the cause of death?

WRAY: I -- I didn't say that. We're not at a point where we can disclose or confirm the cause of death.

[10:40:01] GRASSLEY: OK. It's important for the committee to fully understand the FBI's caseload regarding domestic extremism cases. I have a series of data-driven and data-centered questions for you that I'll give a list of these in sequence. I'd prefer the answers now, but if you don't have them I'll accept those answers after the hearing as long as you commit to do so. So this is a series of questions.

What percentage of your investigation regarding January 6th are predicated as racially motivated, violent extremist or white supremacist-originated individuals?

Secondly, what percentage are other extremist ideologies? For domestic violence extremists, home-grown violent extremists and international extremists, how many total FBI investigations are ongoing?

And of that figure, one, how many are motivated by jihadist ideology, how many are motivated by white supremacy ideology, and how many are motivated by left-wing anarchist ideologies?

We need data, and I hope you see our need for this data. So can you answer those now, or do you want to get back in writing?

WRAY: Well, I will certainly get back to you. I'm aware that -- that we've gotten a letter that goes through, in quite detail, a number of specific data requests. And we're working on that response as we speak. There are probably some things I could say, sitting here right now.

As I said to the chairman, although I don't have the percentage for you, the attackers on January 6th included a number, and the number keeps growing, as we build out our investigations, of what we would call militia violent extremism. And we have had some already arrested who we would put in the category of racially motivated violent extremism white (ph) as well. Those would be the categories so far that we're seeing as far as January 6th.

Now, looking back, bigger picture, because I think the rest of your question goes more to our caseload overall, I could say a number of things on that.

In terms of domestic violent extremism, domestic terrorism, that number is now -- has grown steadily on my watch, so I've -- we've increased the number of domestic terrorism investigations from around a thousand or so when I got here, to up to about 1,400 at the end of last year, to about 2,000 now. That's domestic terrorism overall.

When it comes to racially motivated violent extremism, that number, again, number of investigations, number of arrests has grown significantly on my watch. And the number of arrests, for example, of racially motivated violent extremists who are what you would categorize as white supremacists, last year, was almost triple the number it was in my first year as director.

And when it comes to anarchist violent extremists, which is another category that you asked about, that number has also grown over the course of my tenure. Last year, I think, we had more arrests of anarchist violent extremists than in the prior three years combined.

GRASSLEY: Can I stop you there?

WRAY: Yes.

GRASSLEY: Because you've done a good job of giving us an overall view and I assume in writing, we can get specific answers and the numbers are very important, data is very important.

Former acting DHS Secretary Wolf has stated, quote -- or not quote -- that the lack of visibility into the anarchist extremist movement may have caused the federal government to be underprepared for the riots this summer. Former Attorney General Barr stated that the FBI has robust programs for white supremacy and militia extremism, but has (ph) a (ph) significantly weaker anarchist extremism program.

So unless you disagree with Wolf or Barr, how do you plan to make your left-wing anarchist extremism program as robust as your white supremacy and militia extremism program?

WRAY: Well, I think there's a -- that's a long and complicated question to answer in a sense, but I'll give you a few things for right now.

One is, I think as with any domestic terrorism threat, or frankly any counterterrorism threat more broadly, we're always looking to develop more and better sources so we get more visibility, insight into the plans and intentions, tactics, procedures, et cetera of any group of violent extremists. Another is to get better at learning how to -- to navigate around some of the operational tradecraft that they use.


So the more times, the more arrests we see -- and this is relevant both for the anarchist violent extremists and for the racially motivated violent extremists, for example -- the more of the arrests that you see, well, that's obviously good news for everybody that we're arresting people who need to be arrested.

There's a whole other part of that that's really important that I want to emphasize, which is the more arrests we make, the more from those cases we learn about who else their contacts are, what their tactics are, what their strategies are, et cetera, and that makes us smarter and better able to get in front of the threat, going forward.

GRASSLEY: Mr. Chairman, can I ask one very short question that I think will give a short answer? And then I'll submit questions in writing if we don't have a second round.

Why hasn't the FBI produced the January 5th, 2021 Norfolk memo to Congress?

WRAY: So that information is law enforcement-sensitive. I'm aware of the interest, and I think part of the reason it had been withheld, in consultation with the department, had been the ongoing investigations that we have. But I certainly understand the interest and I can commit to you that I will get with my staff and see if we can make that available.

GRASSLEY: OK, thank you.

DURBIN: Senator Leahy, by remote?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): -- chair, am I unmuted now, Mr. Chairman?

DURBIN: Yes, you are.

LEAHY: Thank you.

Director Wray, thank you for -- for being here. I -- I don't envy you your job at all. It -- you know, for those of us who have been here a long time, we've seen the changes, dramatic changes that -- that go on in what you face.

You've always spoken about the truth about the threat of domestic terrorism, and I know that sometimes it's been politically difficult to do so. You have to deal with reality, you can't deal with the politics.

So I'll ask you a few quick questions beginning with, do you stand by your previous testimony that white supremacist extremism is the dominant (ph) most (ph) persistent source of domestic terrorism threats we face today?

WRAY: Sorry, I couldn't hear the last part of the question, which I think may be the key part, so I just want to make sure --


LEAHY: Do you stand by your -- do you stand by your previous testimony that white supremacist extremism is the dominant, most persistent source of domestic terrorism threats we face today?

WRAY: I would certainly say, as I think I've said consistently in the past, that racially motivated violent extremism, specifically of the sort that advocates for the superiority of the white race, is a persistent, evolving threat. It's the biggest chunk of our racially motivated violent extremism cases for sure. And racially motivated violent extremism is the biggest chunk of our domestic terrorism portfolio, if you will, overall.

I will also say that same group of people we're talking about have been responsible for the most lethal attacks over the last say decade.

LEAHY: Is -- and when I look at what happened on January 6th, it appears that right-wing white supremacist groups played an instrumental role in the violent assault. Is that your conclusion also?

WRAY: Well, let me answer that this way. I think we're basically saying the same thing. We don't tend to think -- we at the FBI don't tend to think of violent extremism in terms of right-left, you know, that's not a spectrum that we look at. What I would say is that it is clear, as I think I said to Chairman

Durbin, that a large and growing number of the people that we have arrested so far in the -- in connection with the 6th are what we would call militia violent extremism, militia violent extremists.

And then there have been some already that have emerged who I would have put in the racially motivated violent extremist bucket. Again, advocating for the superiority of the white race.

LEAHY: I understand from your testimony previously that you did not see Antifa or left-wing groups playing a significant role in the January 6th insurrection?

WRAY: Certainly while we're equal opportunity in looking for violent extremism of any ideology, we have not to date seen any evidence of anarchist violent extremists or people subscribing to Antifa in connection with the 6th. That doesn't mean we're not looking, and we'll continue to look. But at the moment, we have not seen that.


LEAHY: So what you do is you look, as somebody in law enforcement should, you look at where the crime was and who committed it, and you go after them. Not from some kind of political vendetta, but you committed the crime, we'll go after you. Is that too simplistic a way of stating it?

WRAY: No, not simplistic at all. And I think a very, very important point that you're making there and something that's very important to us at the FBI. We focus on the violence and the violations of federal law. And then the ideology comes into it as a further piece of the puzzle as we build out the case.

But our focus is on the violence. We don't care what ideology motivates somebody, as Judge Garland, I think, himself said just last week. We don't care whether it's left, right, up, down, diagonal or any other way. If the ideology is motivating violence and it violates federal law we're coming after it.

LEAHY: Well, I know you're going to come before our Appropriations Committee -- Senator Durbin and I are on that, and others -- for a classified briefing. And so I won't go into some of the classified parts, but we are going to talk to you -- and I certainly, as chair of that committee, very interested in resources. You've got a finite number of resources, and you have infinite number of problems. So you have to prioritize it.

I'd heard reports that the previous administration diverted FBI resources away from countering white supremacist violence and toward objectively lesser threat of left-wing violence. Were you directed at all to shift resources away from right-wing extremists?

WRAY: We did not receive direction to, nor did we separate or divert resources away from tackling racially motivated violent extremism, white over to anarchist violent extremism or anything along those lines. In fact, as I've said, we -- I elevated racially motivated violent

extremism, the vast majority of which is of what you would call white supremacist violence, to our highest threat priority, where it has stayed. And that drives resources, that drives the collection requirements for all of our field offices.

And I think the results speak for themselves. We have significantly grown the number of investigations and arrests in the category that you're asking about. It was up to about 1,400 by the end of last year, and it's up to about 2,000 now, which has doubled where it was, the pace when I started this job.

LEAHY: Well, that's what I would expect you to do, go where the crimes are and go after it. But we've seen a lot of hate crime, certainly concerns of the hate crimes against Asian-Americans. I was the lead co-sponsor of the Matthew Shephard Hate Crimes Prevention.

But now, when we see the increases, a recent FBI report indicates that 87 percent of law enforcement agencies participating in the FBI's hate crime data collection have reported zero hate crime incidents within their jurisdictions. Do you think that's accurate?

WRAY: Well, certainly we are constantly trying to improve the quality and quantity of reporting on hate crimes. I think we know that historically hate crimes are underreported.

Having said that, it's not necessarily the case that every department is -- out there in the country is going to have had a hate crime in its jurisdiction in the course of any given year.

So we focus a little bit less on whether the percentage of departments that report it. We do want the percentage of departments who are cooperating and voluntarily responding to go up, and we focus more on whether or not the growth in the number of hate crimes reported overall seems to be building or not.

LEAHY: Certainly I have other questions for the record, but you've testified before about a Fusion Cell developing (ph) to address both hate crimes and domestic terrorism. Has that been helpful?

WRAY: It has. So what you're referring to is something that I put in place I guess about 18 months, maybe two years ago. I created a Domestic Terrorism-Hate Crimes Fusion Cell, which brought together -- because a lot of these crimes could fit either into a domestic terrorism bucket or a hate crimes bucket.


And what I was worried about was making sure that within the FBI we didn't have a left hand-right hand problem. And so we brought together people focusing on both into a single Fusion Cell with the goal of trying to be proactive against some of the threats that are coming.

And one example that I'll cite that we're particularly pleased with, which I think is an indication of the success the cell is having, is we were able to get in front of and prevent an attempted -- I think explosives attack on a synagogue in Colorado. And that I think is largely a credit to the Fusion Cell, which was able to kind of help us figure out how to get in front of those kinds of attacks.

DURBIN: Thank you, Senator Leahy.

LEAHY: Thank you.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

DURBIN: Senator Graham?


Director Wray, I want to try to look forward, then we'll talk a little bit about January the 6th.

Do you think the National Guard presence at the Capitol at the level we have today should continue? If so, for how long?

WRAY: You know, Senator, I'm not sure that I'm really the best equipped to evaluate the National Guard presence --

GRAHAM: OK, fair enough, fair enough. You are the best equipped to talk about the capability of the FBI. Do you have enough people and resources to deal with all the threats we've been talking about this morning?

WRAY: Well, needless to say, Senator, I welcome and appreciate the question. Everywhere I go, someone has really good ideas about things they think the FBI should be doing more of. But I have not found very many people with great ideas -- or at least responsible ideas -- of things the FBI could be doing less of.

And so our folks are busting their you-know-whats --


GRAHAM: Yes, I know --

WRAY: -- to try to deal with all these threats. We need more agents, we need more analysts, we need more data analytics, et cetera.


GRAHAM: OK, well, let's just -- let's just stop there because we need to learn as much as we can from January the 6th. This is the 20th anniversary of 9/11, are you concerned about international terrorists paying us a visit?

WRAY: Absolutely.

GRAHAM: OK, are you concerned about the interaction between international terrorists and domestic terrorists?

WRAY: That's a growing phenomenon. Certainly something we're watching with concern. GRAHAM: One of my great concerns was that as people flowed into the

Capitol with backpacks on, you had no idea who they were and what they were carrying. So it would have been very easy for some international terrorist group to infiltrate this crowd. Do you agree with that?

WRAY: I do think it would have been easy for that to happen. I don't know that we've seen evidence that it did happen, but that's certainly one of the specific things we're looking for.

GRAHAM: After the attack, don't you think international roots are seeing this is a vulnerability in our system?

WRAY: I'm sorry, I couldn't hear the --

GRAHAM: International terrorist groups may have found a way to get closer to the Capitol by integrating themselves into domestic political movements?

WRAY: Well certainly, we think the events on January 6th have been, at a minimum, an inspiration to a number of terrorist extremists out there, and may even have been worse than that.

GRAHAM: So here's my challenge to you. Sit down and put pen to paper, and in the -- think big, not small -- what do you need that you don't have in terms of agents and resources? And put it to paper. I'm on the Appropriations Committee with Senator Durbin, many of us here are. I think we've got an opportunity here to plus you up.

Is it fair to say that since 9/11, domestic terrorism has exploded as a threat?

WRAY: Well, it's certainly grown dramatically --

GRAHAM: OK, grown dramatically, which takes resources to combat, is that correct?

WRAY: Yes.

GRAHAM: Has the FBI grown dramatically since 9/11?

WRAY: Not as dramatically as the threat.

GRAHAM: OK, so what I want to -- I want you to do is take the number of agents and resources you had on 9/11 and tell us where you're at today, and make sure that we understand that the threats you're facing are much greater than they were 20 years ago. And challenge us to give you the resources to meet those threats.

Back to January the 6th. Is it fair to say, as director of the FBI, you were not informed of the raw intelligence coming from the Norfolk office, is that correct?

WRAY: Not before January 6th.

GRAHAM: OK, so this was an internet posting that somebody captured? WRAY: My understanding is that this was information posted online

under a moniker or a pseudonym. It was unvetted, uncorroborated information, but it was -- and it was somewhat aspirational in nature, but it was concerning, it was concerning. And it was specific enough that we --

GRAHAM: That's --

WRAY: -- our folks in Norfolk thought the need to get it out, even if we hadn't had a chance to corroborate or vet it.


GRAHAM: OK, looking back, what would you have done differently with this information? Because this is a hard one.