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Senators Grill FBI Director Over Insurrection, Domestic Terror. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 2, 2021 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[13:00:00]

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-AL): Mr. Director, have you ever been to Hong Kong?

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: No.

KENNEDY: Wonderful place, wonderful people. The Chinese Communist Party is destroying it.

If Congress passed a bill and said to the good people of Hong Kong who yearn for freedom, come to America, we're going to follow our friends in Britain, say, come here. If you want to get out from under the thumb of the communist party, come to America, we'll welcome you, do you think the FBI and the law enforcement has the ability to screen for spies?

One of the criticisms of the proposition I just stated is, well, we would be living with spies. Do you think, based on your knowledge of security, that we could catch most of the spies?

WRAY: Well, I yield to no one and my faith and confidence of the great men and women of the FBI, but I will tell you the Chinese counterintelligence threat is greatest threat, it's certainly the greatest counterintelligence threat that we face as a country.

And the sheer number of what we would refer to as non-traditional collectors working on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party is something that is a massive resource challenge for the FBI.

KENNEDY: Okay. That was probably an unfair question and I'm not asking you to get anything. In the few seconds I have left, I'm begging the indulgence of our he esteemed chairman, who is doing a much better job than Durbin, by the way -- oh, he's back -- the Horowitz report, can you tell us how many people you have referred for prosecution at the FBI as a result of the Horowitz report?

WRAY: Well, for prosecution or for discipline?

KENNEDY: For prosecution first. Just give me numbers because I don't want to abuse my time.

WRAY: Well, the prosecution issue related to anything to do with the Horowitz report is in the hands of inspector --

KENNEDY: I get it. How many have you fired?

WRAY: So all of the people -- most of the people involved in the Horowitz report are former employees. Of the ones that are current, every single one of them, even if mentioned only in passing, have been referred to our office of professional responsibility, which is our disciplinary arm.

Now, that piece, and this is important, that piece of it, because we're cooperating fully with Mr. Durham's investigation, at his request, we had slowed that process down to allow his criminal investigation to proceed. So, at the moment, that process is still underway in order to make sure that we're being appropriately sensitive to the criminal investigation.

KENNEDY: Okay. So you've had to hold up as a result of the criminal investigation?

I'm sorry, I went over, Mr. Chairman. And I'm sure glad you're here. Bucker was just screwing everything up.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Senator Padilla, and I'm sure you'll do a better than the previous questioner.

SEN. ALEX PADILLA (D-CA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I will do my best.

Director Wray, other members in the committee have raised their concerns over the increase in hate crimes in recent years against the Latinos, African-Americans, to LBGTQ community and others. Over the last year, we've seen a significant increase in violence specifically against Asian-Americans, including in my home state of California.

Earlier in this hearing, members raised recent lethal attacks in San Francisco and New York as some examples. Just last week in Sacramento, California, a man returned to the premises of an Asian family-run butcher shop with a mutilated cat carcass for no apparent reason other than to stoke fear. The incident is currently under investigation as a hate crime.

It's clear to me that this uptick in violence against Asian-Americans is a direct result of racist rhetoric used by political leaders with intentional regard to the coronavirus pandemic, such as when former President Donald Trump has used offensive references to the coronavirus.

Indeed, on March 2020, an FBI assessment conducted by the FBI Houston Office and distributed to law enforcement across the country, and I'll quote, it predicted a future surge in hate crimes against Asian- Americans due to the spread of the coronavirus. I want a quote from that assessment. The FBI makes this assessment based on the assumption that a portion of the U.S. public will associate COVID-19 with China and Asian-American populations.

So I know Senator Hirona has already raised the topic, but I wanted to ask a couple more specific follow-up questions. [13:05:03]

To what extent, Director Wray, do you believe the increase in violence against Asian-Americans has been influenced by reckless rhetoric concerning the pandemic? Two, what steps is the FBI taking to address the increase in hate crimes against Asian-Americans? And three, part of that, I hope, is an update on how the FBI is proactively working to overcome trust issues in immigrant communities and communities of color?

WRAY: So, Senator, let me try to take all three questions in turn. First, I want to be careful as FBI director not to start to get in the business of kind of weighing in and characterizing rhetoric, because, as you know, we focus on the violence, not on the ideology or the motivation. So I would largely, on that issue, just reaffirm the intelligence assessment that's already been produced through the appropriate channels.

On the second two questions, in terms of trying to be proactive, a number of things that we're doing, so in addition to our investigations, which we work closely with state and local, and in some cases tribal and other federal law enforcement agencies, and that -- we have some cases we'll be able to bring federal cases working with our civil rights division, counterparts, the prosecutors.

In other cases, even if it's going to be a state or local charge sometimes may be the best charge available based on the facts, we are trying to provide forensic support, other kinds of expertise and experience to help support the state and local prosecution.

We're also trying to do a lot more public outreach, which is both with the community itself but also with state and local law enforcement. And in some cases, field offices are bringing them together so it's a group discussion which I think has a lot of value.

We're also providing training. So we're doing a lot of training, we've done hundreds of seminars, workshops for both law enforcement and community groups, religious organizations, so forth, and that includes hate crimes training not just for the hundreds of special agents at the FBI but for thousands and thousands of police officers.

When it comes specifically to the last part of your question, the trust issues, you know, part of that is demonstrating through our work that we're going to do the right thing in the right way, and that we're going to respond just as aggressively and professionally to crimes against them as victims as they see with other kinds of crimes.

And we have done just since March of 2020, I think we've done 60 -- over 60 liaison events or trainings specifically geared toward the Asian-American and Pacific Islander Community, and we've also tried put out intelligence reports, like the one you referenced that call out the issue.

PADILLA: I think it's just yet another example of the value of increased, improved diversity, not just throughout the ranks of the agency but especially amongst agents and amongst leadership. Now, your examples of collaboration with local law enforcement is actually a great transition to my next question. Some of the most striking revelations in the aftermath of the January 6th insurrection here in the Capitol were reports that some members of the Capitol Police were sympathetic to the insurrectionists, that they posed for photos, provided directions and may have even expressed support for those attacking the very building they're sworn to protect.

I understand that six Capitol Police officers have been suspended and at least 29 others are under investigation for their alleged role in the attack. We've also learned that among those participating in the insurrection where numerous off-duty law enforcement officers from around the country.

Rooting out white supremacists and right-wing extremists is a challenge that local law enforcement agencies and even the United States military is facing across the country. Director Wray, how is the FBI assisting law enforcement agencies across the country to root out white supremacy or other forms of extremism, and do you believe there is a concerted effort by right-wing extremists to infiltrate law enforcement agencies?

WRAY: So, I guess a few things I would say on this topic, certainly, it is true that, in some instances, as we continue to investigate the January 6 attack, there have been some instances of current or particular former military or law enforcement who participated and we want to pursue those cases just as aggressively as we would anyone else.

[13:10:05]

We are also, which may go to the heart of your question, when appropriate, referring individuals to their -- the department that employs them for possible administrative or disciplinary action under their rules as appropriate.

We work very closely with both our law enforcement partners and our military partners in their efforts to address any kind of violent extremism that may be in their midst. We view that as, in effect, a kind of insider threat, if you will, and they do too.

And I want to be clear that in my experience, and I'm dealing with our law enforcement partners and military partners every single day, a vast, vast, vast, vast majority of the men and women in uniform both in law enforcement and the military are brave, selfless, professional, high-integrity individuals. But when there are bad apples in the midst, we work with our partners to try to get ahead of it.

PADILLA: I agree with that final statement, but the danger that those few bad apples present are to be taken very seriously, I understand.

So I hope to work with you possibly to develop further best practices and protocols to be shared with agencies around the country.

WRAY: Thank you. PADILLA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

DURBIN: Thank you. Senator Tillis?

SEN. THOM TILLIS (R-NC): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Director Wray, thank you for being here for your years of service and for the great work that so many people in the FBI do every single day.

Before I ask you a question though, I think it's very important. I was the last member to leave the Senate chamber, and I observed the Capitol Police did an extraordinary job in shepherding every single member and every single staff to safety.

So I hope as they're reviewing some of the officers, we should go through a review. I hope that we're tracking their entire pattern of movement that day. I think you'll see many of them were putting themselves between us and violence, and we need to make sure that we treat them fairly.

But back on the rioters on January 6th, can you give me a rough idea just of the crimes that many of them are being charged with or being pursued through investigations?

WRAY: Well, we're using a variety of statutory weapons. There are certainly assault charges, there are a number of charges that are -- by that, I mean assault against federal law enforcement, including the Capitol Police, the brave men and women of the Capitol Police that I think you rightly credited there. There is also various charges related to destruction of federal property, things along those lines.

We are now starting to begin to see, as we have sort of taken care of the most immediate, easiest to prove -- I hate to use the word like low-hanging fruit charges, but now we're starting to get more of the more advanced charges, if you will. So we've had some conspiracy charges recently. Some of the people that are more involved with different forms of planning or coordination or preparation, some of those charges are starting to happen, and I would expect to see that continue.

TILLIS: And, incidentally, Mr. Chair, I want to associate myself with Senator Graham's comments earlier, I think your threats are going up and we have got to match that with additional resources, so I look forward to the committee continuing that.

Would you see any deference between the charges, the investigations that you're pursuing in the events on January 6th and charges that should be pursued against federal buildings and federal law enforcement officers being harmed in Seattle or Portland? Are there active investigations for either of those two events, and would they be treated any differently?

WRAY: As I, I think, said in response to an earlier question, we are equal opportunity. So, by that, I mean we don't care what ideology motivates you. If you're engaged in violence that violates federal law, we're coming for you. And that's just true for the events over the summer and some of the domestic terrorism that occurred -- TILLIS: Are there active investigations related to those events?

WRAY: Yes.

TILLIS: Thank you. And I felt like you mentioned a response to one of the member's questions about this just increasing, the volume is increasing. I've introduced in the last Congress, I intend to reintroduce the bill called Protect and Serve, which increases penalties for rioters for assaults on federal officers and more significant consequences. Do you think that those would be helpful tools for law enforcement and for prosecution?

WRAY: Certainly -- Sorry, I didn't mean to --

TILLIS: Go ahead.

WRAY: I think, while I'm not familiar with the specific bill, I want to enthusiastically support the idea of looking at everything we can do to protect the men and women of law enforcement.

[13:15:10]

The threats, the violence against law enforcement in this country is one of the most tragic and sometimes least talked about challenges we face. This year alone, an officer is shot and killed in the line of duty at a rate of more than one a week.

And when you think about what it takes for someone to be willing to sacrifice his or her life for a total stranger and how unusual that is just to begin with, and then you add on top of that somebody who is willing to do that, get up and do that every single day, day after day after day, and they never know when that day might be the day that they don't come home to their families.

And so then you put that in the context of the way in which some violent opportunists or domestic terrorists hijacked some of these protests, whether it's the ones over the summer or the ones on the 6th, and now you have got some of these same selfless individuals who are, in many cases, killed, but for anyone who was killed, there is someone who survived, thank goodness, but whose life and his family's life is forever altered.

And I don't think we should ever take for granted those people because they protect all of us.

TILLIS: I agree. I'm curious with all the discussion of defund the police and systemic racism and all law enforcement agencies, some of the dialogue that's out there, have you seen a measurable decrease in the people who are trying to come into the FBI?

I know I'm seeing it and state troopers are telling me their applications for academies are down by over 70 percent. We see people accelerating their retirements. Do we have any potential threat out there either within the FBI or for law enforcement, in general, having fewer people willing to get into this profession? WRAY: So, certainly, when it comes to state and local law enforcement, because I talk to many of the chiefs and sheriffs you do, the recruiting challenge is a real concern and it comes up all the time. That's something we need to be concerned about, and all of these trends we're talking about, will have -- I think we run the risk of that, just making that trend worse.

At the FBI, happily, because we can all use some good news from time to time, last year and the year before, we tripled the number of people, Americans across the country, applying to be special agents. So when I took the job, it was around 11,000 or so a year of people applying to be special agents. In 2019, it was about 36,000. And then last year, even with the pandemic, it was even higher than that. And that's the highest number of people applying to work at the FBI as special agents to put their lives on the line in about a decade.

So we'd like to think our work is earning people who want to come work for us, and we're grateful for that, and hopefully we can do our part to try to encourage more people, because we can only take so many of them to pursue law enforcement jobs in other agencies.

TILLIS: Well, that is good news. I just wish you all the best of luck in prosecuting every single person that you can that breached the Capitol and every single person on the grounds who assaulted or threatened a police officer, if there is anything we can do to help.

And I will follow up with the department to get your perspective as to whether or not you think the Protect and Serve Act would be helpful. I think it will be, but I'd like your professional judgment.

WRAY: Thank you, Senator.

TILLIS: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

DURBIN: Thanks, Senator. Senator Ossoff?

SEN JON OSSOFF (D-GA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And, Director Wray, greetings from your home state of Georgia.

WRAY: Thank you.

OSSOFF: Thank you for your service.

There has been a significant increase in shootings and violent crime nationwide over the last 18 months. There were at least ten people shot in Atlanta, Georgia, on Sunday. What does the FBI assess is driving this crime wave?

WRAY: Well, certainly, I am following the same trends you are with concern not just in Atlanta but in other cities around the country. I'm not sure there is any single factor that's driving it. I think it's a variety of things. We are seeing -- some of it may be the pandemic itself in its own way has had an impact, you know, people who are maybe not at jobs and not in school or not otherwise available and they're more -- there's more potential for wrongdoing to occur.

[13:20:00]

We've talked about some of the challenges with local police departments and some of the issues there in terms of their recruiting and staffing. A lot of them are understaffed in addition to the recruiting challenge, so that's a problem. So there are a variety of drivers that we think contribute to it. But the violent crime problem over the last year, in particular, 2020, is something that is a great concern and that we are very warily keeping our eye on.

It doesn't get the same kind of headlines as some of the other threats we've talked about today, but as your question, I think, quite rightly implies, it's a subject that's near and dear to the hearts of all the people we know back home.

OSSOFF: Yes. Well, with that many shootings in Atlanta on Sunday alone, this increase in violent crime is of grave concern to Georgians and people across the country. Will you work with this committee and my office to try to refine that assessment of the drivers of this violent crime wave?

WRAY: We would be pleased to do that. I commend you for your interest in the violent crime problem back in our home state.

OSSOFF: I appreciate that, Director Wray.

Next week will be the first anniversary of the shooting death of Brianna Taylor, a young lady who died when police officers in Louisville, Kentucky, entered her home with a battering ram executing a no-knock search warrant connected to a narcotics investigation.

Ms. Taylor was not the subject of that warrant. There has obviously been deepening and grave concern about equal justice, due process, the extent of brutality harassment, discrimination faced by black Americans in the criminal justice system growing over the last year given incidents such as this one.

Without commenting on the specifics of the late Ms. Taylor's case, is the FBI prioritizing investigations of cases involving color of law violations under 18 USC 242? And what resources have you instructed your field offices to commit to those investigations?

WRAY: So, as you say, I can't discuss the Taylor case specifically, and we have an ongoing federal investigation there, but we are definitely trying to push forward on color of law cases. We have -- we do that through our civil rights division within our criminal investigative division.

In addition to the investigations we're pursuing, and we have quite a number around the country, we are also trying to contribute by doing different forms of training and outreach to state and local police departments so they understand better kind of where the lines are and where we fit into it. So that's part of it as well.

We're also trying to contribute to the situation by encouraging better reporting, and we've had a lot of conversations this morning in other contexts about statistics and reporting. And when it comes to use of force, we are trying to build out a use of force database that involves use of force by police departments, law enforcement agencies around the country. It's voluntary. We can't mandate all these local police departments who provide the information, but we are doing a lot to encourage them to submit their data.

And my pitch to them has been, we're going to be talking about these issues no matter what and we should all want the conversations to be based on the actual facts and the actual data as opposed to what some random person thinks the facts and data are.

And so we have now reached one of the thresholds where we can start doing some of the reporting related to this effort. We need to get to a certain threshold statistically. I think it's like 80 percent or something of police departments before the data is considered statistically reliable, so, investigations, training and outreach, more complete statistical reporting and use of force.

OSSOFF: Thank you, Director Wray. And I know the committee is considering legislation to make that data more available to you from local agencies. And what you provide to the committee and to my office in accounting of the FBI's investigations over the last two years, color of law violations, title 18 USC 242.

WRAY: I will be happy to see if we can provide you some more information on that.

OSSOFF: Okay, I'll look forward to that.

Director Wray, is the recently revealed SolarWinds breach, a major cyber security breach, a failure, a counterintelligence failure by the U.S. government?

WRAY: I don't know that I would describe it that way. Certainly, the SolarWinds intrusion is something that reflects a trend that we've been calling out for some time, but it takes it to the next level.

[13:25:04]

So, for years, we've been warning of both China and Russia in efforts to inject malware and to undermine our trust in software that organizations all rely on. We've also called out the intrusions into managed service providers, which allow our adversaries to reach a far greater number of networks to sort of single entry points.

The SolarWinds intrusion essentially takes this to the next level, purposely infecting a product that's widely used to manage networks. And so the scope, the scale, the somewhat indiscriminate nature of the intrusion is something we take very seriously with our partners.

OSSOFF: But, Director Wray, my time being limited, certainly for malware to be embedded on sensitive U.S. networks at that scale and without the protection for that duration must constitute a counterintelligence failure? WRAY: Well, I think it's a cyber security issue. I think of counterintelligence a little bit differently than just the kind of context you're thinking about. But, as I said, in some ways, it's analogous to what I said about some of the earlier threats. Our goal is to try to bat a thousand. And anytime we don't bat a thousand, we're obviously, looking hard to see what we can do to prevent that from happening again.

When it comes to cyber intrusion in particular though, we have long passed the world where it's a question of if an organization is going to be the victim of cyber intrusion. We're in the world of when. And the question is not whether somebody was the subject to the cyber intrusion, but how fast does it get detected, how well does it get mitigated, et cetera.

The scope, the scale, the range of attack methods, the number of adversaries involved in sophisticated cyber attacks dwarves what it was when I was in law enforcement and national security before. And a huge amount of the information -- a huge amount of the information for America in particular is in the hands of the private sector.

And so unlike some of the other kinds of threats we've been talking about here this morning, the partnership between the intelligence community, other federal agencies and the private sector is at the heart of the issue.

OSSOFF: Thank you, Director Wray. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

DURBIN: Thank you, Senator Ossoff. I'm glad you brought up SolarWinds, because I think it's the first reference at this hearing.

I would like to do a follow-up before I recognize Senator Blackburn. So what do we do about it? We know we don't have an extradition agreement with Russia, so even finding and naming the hackers doesn't lead to any punishment of them. What is our response as a deterrent to future cyber intrusion?

WRAY: So, Mr. Chairman, I think discussing the response in any detail is probably something that would be better done in a classified setting. That by itself might give you a little bit of a hint. But what we have found -- speaking more generally, what we have found over the last couple years in the cyber arena in particular is that we are at our most effective when we have joint sequenced operations that essentially -- think of it as having the whole be greater than some of the parts.

So, you mentioned a few of the things that can be done. Any one of those things by themselves ain't going to get the job done. But if you start putting some of those things together in a way where each amplifies the effect of the other, we have actually seen some pretty good results with some of our adversaries, so it's everything from not just the law enforcement piece, it's foreign partner participation, it's private sector hardening, it's treasury sanctions, it's a whole host of things.

But when you put them together, sequenced, I would never suggest to you, and you would never believe me if I did suggest to you that that's somehow going to just

eliminate the problem. It does push the adversary back and slow their progress. But this is going to be a long, hard slog.

DURBIN: Thanks, Director. I believe that Senator Blackburn is on remote. Senator?

Technical difficulties. I want to -- she's waited patiently, so I'll give her another minute, see if that helps.

SEN. MARSHA BLACKBURN: Yes, Mr. Chairman, I'm here.

DURBIN: Okay, Senator, you have the floor.

[13:30:00]

BLACKBURN: Thank you, Sir. I appreciate that, and, yes, I think I don't have enough bandwidth. Something is wrong with the video transmission.