The FBI is “looking carefully” at the possibility that foreign actors are influencing the sometimes-violent nationwide protests in the wake of George Floyd’s in-custody death, FBI Director Christopher Wray exclusively told Fox News’ Bret Baier on Wednesday.
Wray also revealed that “the FBI has over 2,000 active investigations that trace back to the government in China,” marking “about a 1,300 percent increase in terms of economic espionage investigations with the Chinese nexus from about a decade ago.”
Also in the interview, Wray declined to directly answer whether he was personally “responsible for holding back from Congress” relevant materials concerning key documents, including some relating to former national security adviser Michael Flynn. The Daily Caller has reported, citing a source, that Wray was involved in withholding exculpatory evidence in Flynn’s case.
“We have certainly seen in the past a variety of foreign adversaries looking to amplify controversy in this country,” Wray said. “And they use state media. They use social media. Some of that is through propaganda, some of that’s through disinformation, some of that’s through just fake information. And we are looking carefully at the prospect of foreign influence or foreign interference in all of the protests and activities that have occurred over the last few weeks.”
Wray’s comments came amid a high-level push from the White House and Congress to end the destruction of statues and other monuments across the United States.
In May, former Obama administration national security adviser Susan Rice bizarrely suggested in a televised interview Sunday that the Russians could be behind the violent nationwide demonstrations, although she offered no evidence and admitted she’s “not reading the intelligence these days.”
President Trump on Wednesday vowed to protect statues as some activists are calling for the toppling of monuments to former presidents, controversial historical figures and even Jesus Christ — after initially just targeting those of Confederate figures. Trump, who earlier in the day promised to sign an executive order by the end of the week to protect public statues and federal monuments, said that any continuation of the toppling of monuments “is not going to happen.”
And, Indiana GOP Rep. Jim Banks said will be introducing legislation that would make desecrating memorials to “previous U.S. presidents or a Founding Father” a federal offence punishable up to 10 years in prison. The “Defending America’s Culture and Heritage Act” (DAHCA), would amend the Veterans’ Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act of 2003 to “include statues of former U.S. presidents and all those individuals who signed the Declaration of Independence.”
“Look, equal justice is essential, but violence and destruction of federal property is not the way to get there,” Wray said. “And if there are appropriate bases for federal investigations, we’ll pursue them.”
China, Wray told Baier, is clearly engaged in a wide relay of malign activities — including “pursuing a campaign of intellectual property theft economic espionage, cyber-intrusions that target businesses — big and small — all across the country and our academic research institutions.”
The country’s communist leaders employ “what we sometimes call non-traditional collectors which can be businessmen, high-level scientists, high-level academics – people like that.”
China additionally “have an interest in influencing our political thought – our policies – to try and shift them in a more friendly, pro-China, pro-Chinese Communist party direction; and so sometimes that gets wrapped up in election issues,” Wray added.
With the White House and the Washington Monument in the background, a National Park Service worker cleans a statue of President Andrew Jackson, Thursday, June 11, 2020, near the White House in Washington, after protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
As Wray spoke to Baier, a federal appeals court ordered the case against former Trump administration national security advisor Michael Flynn dismissed, despite a judge’s unilateral efforts to keep the case alive.
The DOJ had sought to drop the case after explosive internal FBI documents unsealed in April showed that top bureau officials discussed their motivations for interviewing Flynn in the White House in January 2017 — and openly questioned if their “goal” was “to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired.”
The handwritten notes — written by the FBI’s former head of counterintelligence Bill Priestap — further suggested that agents planned in the alternative to get Flynn “to admit to breaking the Logan Act” when he spoke to then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition period.
The Logan Act is an obscure statute that has never been used in a criminal prosecution; enacted in 1799 in an era before telephones, it was intended to prevent individuals from falsely claiming to represent the United States government abroad.
On Wednesday, Flynn’s lawyers said newly uncovered notes from former FBI official Peter Strzok indicate that then-Vice President Joe Biden was involved in the decision to pursue the Logan Act case against Flynn.
The notes state: “VP: ‘Logan Act,’ P: These are unusual times. VP: I’ve been on intel committee for ten years and I never. P: Make sure you look over things and have the right people on it. P: Is there anything I shouldn’t be telling the transition team? D: Flynn-> Kislyak calls but appear legit.” (The transcription assumes that in Strzok’s shorthand, “D” represents Director Comey, “VP” represents Vice President Biden, and “P” represents President Obama.)
Pressed by Baier as to why all these exculpatory notes took so long to come out, Wray acknowledged the legitimacy of the concerns.
“Decisions about producing documents in a criminal prosecution are typically handled by the prosecutors,” Wray said. “I will say that, of course, the Flynn investigation, which took place before I started and then by the time I started was in the hands of the Special Counsel’s Office, is something that has, in my view, raised serious concerns and questions. Which is why I ordered an after-action review by our inspection division, to take a look at whether or not the FBI’s policies and procedures need to be changed and if there are any current employees left who may bear any responsibility for this conduct.”
Baier asked directly: “Congress says they’ve had a tough time getting documents and things from you. Senator Grassley in particular about the Michael Flynn calls. Were you responsible for holding back from Congress some of that stuff?”
Wray didn’t respond directly, however.
“I think we’ve tried very, very hard to be transparent and cooperative with all the relevant congressional committees,” Wray said. “We produced all sorts of information and tried to really lean forward.”
Wray added that the agency is fully cooperating with U.S. Attorney John Durham’s probe into surveillance abuses against Trump officials.
“We’ve cooperated fully with the Durham investigation,” Wray said. “In fact, we even have — a lot of people don’t know this, we actually have agents assigned working on the Durham investigation. So we’re very much lashed up with that.”
At the same time, Wray told Baier he has never once met with Trump one-on-one. Comey’s one-on-one meetings with the president had attacted scrutiny, and allegations of impropriety by Comey.
Fox News’ Bret Baier contributed to this report.