Christopher A. Wray, the director of the FBI, is expected to face an extraordinary political storm Wednesday when he testifies before Congress, with Republicans who once defended the bureau now denouncing it as a weapon wielded against former President Donald J. Trump and his supporters.
Mr. Wray, who is appearing before the House Judiciary Committee for the first time since Republicans won the House, probably belts out the worst. The committee, led by Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, says it will “examine the politicization” of the FBI under Mr. Wray and Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.
Spurred on by Mr. Trump, congressional Republicans have adopted an increasingly caustic tone in their criticism of the nation’s top law enforcement agency, seeking to damage the bureau’s legitimacy and undermine its standing with the public.
That criticism was once trained on the bureau’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia during the 2016 election. It is now focused on other flashpoints: Mr. Trump’s indictment in an investigation into his handling of classified documents; the role of the FBI in the search of the former president’s Mar-a-Lago estate last August, as part of that investigation; baseless claims of a “two-tier” system of justice favoring Democrats; and the Justice Department’s plea agreement with the president’s son, Hunter Biden.
So far, Republicans have not provided evidence that the FBI and Mr. Wray are biased, but they will try to catch Mr. Wray off balance and cast doubt on his motives.
Here’s what to look for:
How will Mr. Wray respond?
Mr. Wray infuriated Mr. Trump, who viewed the director’s declaration of independence as disloyalty. But Mr. Wray has previously testified before Congress, staunchly defending the FBI as nonpartisan and taking Twitter fire from Mr. Trump, who was president at the time.
Mr. Trump appointed Mr. Wray in 2017 after he fired James B. Comey, who as FBI director opened the Russia investigation. Since then, Mr. Wray has been under constant pressure from Republicans, who have simultaneously decried lawlessness in Democratic cities while attacking the FBI’s role in political investigations.
In the past, Mr Wray has responded to attacks by carefully parsing his words. In his opening statement, he is expected to vigorously defend the FBI and decline to discuss open investigations, which is Justice Department policy.
“The work that the men and women of the FBI do to protect the American people goes beyond the one or two investigations that seem to grab all the headlines,” he is expected to say, according to prepared remarks.
Republicans go to war.
Mr. Trump and his supporters — as well as a vocal group of former FBI officials who have aligned themselves with Republicans in Congress — believe the administration is trying to silence and punish conservatives and see the bureau as a dangerous extension of that effort.
Case in point: In January, House Republicans voted to investigate law enforcement, creating the Select Subcommittee on the Arming of the Federal Government.
Republicans have alleged that the FBI encouraged Twitter to discriminate against their party as well as conservative or right-wing protesters at school board meetings and abortion clinics. These issues have proven to be powerful drivers of voter turnout in the party’s pro-Trump base.
The subcommittee is chaired by Mr. Jordan, a close ally of Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump and his supporters have promoted the idea that the Mar-a-Lago search was intended to neutralize his electoral chances.
Mr. Trump and his allies were furious over his indictment and the search of Mar-a-Lago in August, when FBI agents descended on his residence and discovered hundreds of classified documents.
The former president and his supporters said Mr. Trump declassified the records, meaning there was no misconduct to begin with, and that the search was an example of uneven application of justice.
But so far no evidence has emerged that the documents were declassified or that the search, which was approved by a federal judge, was improper or politically motivated. In fact, the search unfolded after Mr. Trump repeatedly resisted the government’s requests that he return the material.
In recent weeks, Steven D’Antuono, the former top FBI agent overseeing the dossier case, testified behind closed doors before Mr. Jordan.
Asked if “anyone was motivated by animus” in the documentary investigation, Mr. D’Antuono said no, according to a transcript of his testimony.
Hunter Biden reached a plea deal. Republicans hate it.
Under the agreement with the Justice Department, Mr. Biden agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor counts of failing to pay his 2017 and 2018 taxes on time and to be sentenced to probation. The department also said it would not prosecute him for buying a handgun in 2018 during a period when he was using drugs.
Republicans attacked the deal, calling it too lenient, even though years of investigation by a US attorney appointed by Trump found evidence only to indict Mr. Biden on the narrow tax and gun issues, rather than the vast international conspiracies peddled by Mr. Trump and his allies.
That American lawyer, David C. Weiss, who signed the agreement, was also attacked. On Monday, Mr. Weiss dismissed a key element of testimony to Congress by an Internal Revenue Service official who said Mr. Weiss complained about being blocked from more serious charges.
Republicans will claim that the Durham investigation showed that the FBI was politically motivated in handling its Russia investigation.
A final report by John H. Durham, the Trump-era special counsel, looked at the origins of the FBI’s investigation into any ties Mr. Trump’s campaign had with Russia but found no evidence of politically motivated misconduct.
Mr. Trump and his loyalists have long insisted that Mr. Durham’s investigation would uncover a “deep state” conspiracy aimed at damaging him politically, but Mr. Durham has never charged high-level government officials.
Instead, Mr. Durham developed only two peripheral cases involving allegations of making false statements, both of which ended in acquittals, while using his report to cite flaws in the FBI’s early investigative steps that he attributed to confirmation bias.
However, Mr. Durham’s report continued to fuel Republican claims of partisanship, with some accusing the FBI of making moves motivated by political favoritism. That allegation will almost certainly resurface during Mr. Wray’s testimony.
Will Americans trust the FBI?
Republicans claimed the Justice Department was “weaponized” against conservatives, but the allegations, which were brought by disgruntled former FBI officials, collapsed.
Instead, Democratic investigators discovered that those former FBI officials peddled right-wing conspiracy theories, including about the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, and received financial support from a key ally of Mr. Trump.
But the back and forth has an effect. Mr D’Antuono, in his testimony, dismissed allegations of political bias and dismissed calls to disband the bureau – but expressed concern about the future.
“In my opinion,” he said, “the more the American people hear about distrust of the FBI, that’s not a good day for this country.”