FBI Head Vows to Fix Secret Warrant Process, Wants Power Renewed

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(Bloomberg) -- FBI Director Christopher Wray said he’s committed to fixing major problems in seeking secret warrants to conduct electronic surveillance on suspected spies and terrorists and called on lawmakers to renew authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that expire in mid-March.

Wray’s testimony Wednesday to the House Judiciary Committee was his first since the Justice Department’s internal watchdog issued a scathing report in December finding major problems in how the FBI obtained secret warrants to surveil President Donald Trump’s former campaign aide Carter Page in late 2016 and early 2017.

While the warrants on Page were part of a broader investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible ties to the Trump campaign, the inspector general’s probe cited “at least 17 significant errors or omissions” in the procedures FBI officials used to get the warrants. Republicans have highlighted those failures to accuse Democrats of pursuing a “witch hunt” against the president.

“The failures highlighted in that report are unacceptable. Period,” Wray said. “They don’t reflect who the FBI is as an institution.”

The mistakes cited by the report included failing to convey to the Justice Department or the FISA court information that cast doubt on a dossier complied by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, as well as material that was exculpatory for Page.

The inspector general also found, however, that the FBI followed appropriate rules and there was no political bias when it opened the investigation, dubbed Crossfire Hurricane, into four people associated with the campaign, including Page.

Nevertheless, Wray said he’s already implementing a wide range of fixes to ensure the process is improved and he said he wants Congress to renew expiring FISA authorities in the coming months. Those authorities, he added, are unrelated to the ones cited as problematic by the inspector general. They include the ability to issue administrative subpoenas to obtain records from companies, conduct surveillance on so-called lone wolves and maintain roving wiretaps on suspects.

“I believe the American people can have confidence in the intelligence community as I sit here today,” Wray said. “I think there are a number of things that the inspector general’s report identified that should be changed and can be changed and need to be improved and we’ve accepted and agreed with every single one of those.”

Impeachment Vote

Wray’s testimony came hours before the Senate is expected to vote to acquit Trump in his impeachment trial.

Some Republican lawmakers said they didn’t believe Wray was serious enough about addressing the failures found in the report.

“I’m terribly disappointed that you can’t summon the outrage,” Representative Tom McClintock of California said. “I don’t trust your agency anymore.”

Wray said he’s been focused on making sure the abuses don’t happen again, even if he’s not publicly animated. “I am not somebody who expresses himself with hyperbole and loud rhetoric,“ Wray said.

Wray also said the FBI still seeks help from Apple Inc. to obtain the contents belonging to the shooter behind the December Naval Air Station attack in Pensacola, Florida. Wray said that the FBI has reconstructed an iPhone belonging to the shooter but still can’t access the encrypted contents.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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