Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today delivered the following remarks during the House Judiciary Committee’s oversight hearing on the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Chairman Goodlatte: Good morning. Thank you, Director Wray, for appearing for your first time in front of this Committee, and thank you for your service to our country in your new position. There is much to discuss today, and we look forward to your answers.
The President recently tweeted that the FBI “is in tatters.” While some will take umbrage with President Trump’s assertion, it does appear to me that, at the very least, the FBI’s reputation as an impartial, non-political agency has been called into question recently. We cannot afford for the FBI – which has traditionally been dubbed the “premier law enforcement agency in the world” – to become tainted by politicization or the perception of a lack of even-handedness. Questions regarding the FBI’s impartiality first came to light under the Obama Administration surrounding the handling of the investigation into the Clinton email server scandal. You, Director Wray, have a unique opportunity to repair the damage to the reputation of the FBI, and we encourage you in the strongest terms to do so.
Director Comey’s decision to weigh in on the fate of the investigation into the mishandling of classified emails by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was one that brought criticism to the Bureau from all sides. The FBI’s decision to recommend no charges against the former Secretary, or anyone connected to her, continues to raise serious concerns that our nation’s system of justice applies differently to the rich, powerful, and well-connected than to everyone else.
Many on this Committee have repeatedly called on Attorney General Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein to name a second special counsel to review the voluminous, unresolved inconsistencies and perceived improprieties with regard to normal FBI and DOJ investigatory practice that arose during the Clinton email investigation. Despite our requests, the Department has not appointed a second special counsel. While we still request the appointment of a second special counsel, we have now also opened our own joint investigation with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to review FBI and DOJ’s handling of that investigation. The Attorney General has recently committed to provide us relevant documents, and I hope to hear directly from you that you will ensure your agency provides a fulsome response of documents to enable unimpeded Congressional oversight.
Even more recently, reports on the bias of some of the career agents and lawyers on current Special Counsel Mueller’s team are also deeply troubling to a system of blind and equal justice. Investigations must not be tainted by individuals imposing their own personal political opinions. We do not know the magnitude of this insider bias on Mr. Mueller’s team nor do we have a clear understanding of the full magnitude of bias reflected in the Russia investigation and prior Clinton email investigation. One thing is clear, though – it is absolutely unacceptable for FBI employees to permit their own political predilections to contaminate any investigation. Even the appearance of impropriety will devastate the FBI’s reputation. We hope to hear from you today on an action plan for making sure this never happens again, that individuals are held accountable, and whether you plan to reevaluate prior decisions in light of the prejudice shown by officials in integral roles on past and ongoing investigations.
Concerning substantive legislative measures, we find ourselves only weeks before a critical program for our national security expires — FISA Section 702. This Committee passed on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis a reauthorization of Section 702 that maintains the integrity of the program while protecting cherished civil liberties. We ensured that the FBI is not hindered by having to obtain a warrant before performing a search for information that the agency has inside its databases. However, we also put in place protections to ensure that law enforcement cannot short cut Americans’ civil liberties by reading Americans’ emails without a warrant when looking for evidence of run-of-the-mill crimes. This Committee’s legislation struck a balance that will promote national security and civil liberties, so I hope to hear from you that you will work with us to make any perfecting changes to the legislation so that Section 702 can be reauthorized on time.
Needless violence on the home front is also a concern for all Americans who value and expect safety and security as they go about their day-to-day lives. We have seen horrific violence in the past year, including the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. Violence has hit this very body when our colleague, Congressman Scalise, and others were shot. We also see many of our major cities stricken by daily murders and excessive violence. Is this the new normal? I am unwilling to accept that. While we have disagreements over policy for addressing this violence, we can all agree that it is existentially important for us to understand and address the underlying causes. If we neglect this duty, we do a disservice for generations to come. Director Wray, in addition to punishing individuals who have already committed criminal acts, I hope the FBI is also committed to crime-prevention initiatives. I am interested in knowing what steps federal law enforcement is taking to address the underlying causes of violence, and whether Congress can offer any additional resources to ensure that we can faithfully say that we have done what we can to battle gratuitous violence in all its forms. I believe that this Committee’s Criminal Justice Reform legislation will help address these problems, including helping to rehabilitate offenders so that they can become productive members of society once released.
Notwithstanding the question of the impartiality and independence of the FBI, I am often astounded by the efforts that the men and women of the FBI contribute on a daily basis toward keeping our country safe from foreign and domestic threats. There are many successes that never see the light of day for which the FBI cannot receive public credit due to the sensitivity of the FBI’s methods and operations. We are truly grateful and hope that the line agents, analysts, and support staff of the FBI know that their jobs are sincerely appreciated and greatly valued.
Thank you again, Director Wray, for appearing today, and I now yield to Ranking Member Nadler for his comments.