WASHINGTON – FBI Director Christopher Wray faced some heated questions from the House Judiciary Committee Thursday in connection with the Hillary Clinton email probe and the ongoing Russia meddling investigation.
Wray defended the integrity of the FBI, calling its employees decent people committed to the highest principles.
His remarks come just days after President Donald Trump tweeted that the bureau's reputation is "in tatters."
"Let me start by saying that it is for me the honor of a lifetime to be here representing the men and women of the FBI," Wray said. "There is no finer institution than the FBI and no finer people than the men and women who work there and are its very beating heart."
When asked about Trump's tweets over the weekend criticizing the FBI, Wray told Rep. Jerry Nadler D-N.Y., "There is no shortage of opinions out there."
Wray agreed that the bureau makes mistakes – but he said when that happens, the bureau launches rigorous independent review and holds people accountable.
"When we make mistakes, there are independent processes like that of the outside, independent inspector general that will drive and dive deep into the facts surrounding those mistakes," he said. "And when that independent fact finding is complete, we will hold our folks accountable if that is appropriate."
Trump on Sunday tweeted that the FBI's reputation was "in tatters" and the "worst in history," seizing on reports about possible bias from a former top bureau official.
After Trump's tweets, Wray sent a message to employees Monday, telling staff that they should "expect – and welcome – people asking tough questions."
"We find ourselves under the microscope each and every day – and rightfully so. We do hard work for a living," Wray said, not mentioning the president specifically.
During the hearing, committee Republicans pressed Wray on what they say is clear evidence of bias against President Trump at the bureau.
Lawmakers seized on the actions of Peter Strzok, who led the Clinton email server investigation.
Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., asked Wray about what he's doing to clear the ranks of the FBI by people "tainted" by bias.
"I think these matters are being looked at, as they should be, by somebody outside the FBI, and when those findings come to me, I will take appropriate action if necessary," Wray said, referencing the ongoing inspector general investigation.
"The first thing I'm doing is respecting the outside independent investigations that are underway," he added. "My preference is to be one of these people who is not an act first and ask questions later guy."
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, also pressed Wray on the decision to change former FBI Director James Comey's statement on Clinton's email investigation to say Clinton had been "extremely careless" rather than "grossly negligent."
"Gross negligence is the language in the statute I believe," Wray said. "But I believe also that almost anybody who grabbed a thesaurus would say that gross negligence and extremely careless are pretty darn close to each other."
When asked how FBI employees feel about the president's comments and scrutiny, Wray said the agents, analysts and staff of the FBI are big boys and girls and they are accustomed to taking criticism from all corners.