The head of the FBI is expected to face some of the agency’s harshest critics in Congress on Wednesday when he appears for an oversight hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.
The hearing will give Republicans a face-to-face opportunity to question Director Christopher Wray and allow conservatives to air grievances on FBI operations, such as the agency’s role in the federal criminal case against former President Donald Trump.
But Wray, a Trump appointee, also could face questions from both parties about the FBI’s use of a contentious surveillance tool known as Section 702, which expires at the end of the year.
Wray’s testimony, his first before the Judiciary panel since Republicans won control of the House, will come as a wing of the majority remains critical of the FBI over what they perceive as political bias inside the agency.
At least two committee Republicans — Rep. Barry Moore of Alabama and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey — have co-sponsored a resolution to impeach Wray for “facilitating the development of a Federal police force to intimidate, harass, and entrap American citizens that are deemed enemies of the Biden regime.”
Conservative lawmakers expressed outrage after the FBI searched Trump’s property in Florida last year. And many Republicans voiced criticism of the Biden administration following news that Trump was indicted on federal charges tied to his retention of classified documents after his presidency.
Some Republican lawmakers have suggested taking direct action against the Justice Department, such as targeting agency funding.
Earlier this year, Speaker Kevin McCarthy threatened to seek to hold Wray in contempt of Congress if the agency did not comply with a congressional subpoena issued after lawmakers received “whistleblower disclosures” related to President Joe Biden.
For his part, Wray has defended the reputation of his agency. The director, appearing before a House Appropriations subcommittee in April, said he installed new leadership during his tenure and put in new policies, procedures and trainings — all to try and reinforce a topline message that the FBI will “follow the facts wherever they lead, no matter who likes it.”
Another area of questioning at the Wednesday oversight hearing could be the Biden administration’s push to reauthorize the contentious surveillance tool known as Section 702.
The provision allows the U.S. government to collect the digital communications of foreigners who are located outside the country, but the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court found “persistent and widespread” compliance problems with the FBI’s searches under Section 702, according to an unveiled order.
The Biden administration characterizes the surveillance power as a cornerstone of national security, but the section has been criticized as a mass surveillance law that does not respect the privacy of Americans. Members of both parties have demanded changes to Section 702.
House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, brought up the topic when asked about the upcoming Wray hearing during an interview on Fox Business.
“There is no way Republicans in Congress are going to be for reauthorizing FISA in its current form, and that’s due at the end of this calendar year. There is no way we’re going to do that,” Jordan said.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the committee, has described the authority as an important tool, but said the current statutory protections are simply not enough to protect privacy and civil rights.
“No massive surveillance operation should be given free rein to evade our constitutional protections, and Section 702 as it currently exists does just that,” Nadler said at a hearing earlier this year.