Social media was abuzz today with the claim that FBI Director Christopher Wray had essentially cleared Donald Trump of any improper interference in the ongoing Russia investigation. Some Trump supporters held it up as supposed evidence of Trump’s innocence. Some who believe Trump is guilty were concerned that his own newly hand-picked FBI Director was letting him off the hook. In our fact check, we look at what Wray actually said today, and in what context.
Here’s what FBI Director Christopher Wray said: “I can say very confidently that I have not detected any whiff of interference with that investigation.” This was in a Politico article titled “Wray: No ‘whiff of interference’ with Trump-Russia probe” (link). From the overall context of the Politico article, it’s clear that Wray was referring strictly to Trump’s interactions with the FBI during the five weeks in which he’s been on the job.
There is nothing that suggests Wray was referring to Donald Trump’s earlier interactions with his predecessor, former FBI Director James Comey. Based on Comey’s testimony before Congress, Trump did unsuccessfully lean on Comey several times to try to influence the outcome of the investigation. Trump also wrote a never-delivered letter to Comey, now in the hands of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, in which Trump essentially admitted that he fired Comey to try to make the Russia investigation go away.
There have long been concerns that Donald Trump may have nominated Christopher Wray as FBI Director under the presumption that Wray would work to get him off the hook in the Russia scandal. However, as Wray stressed today, he’s not in charge of the Trump-Russia investigation; Robert Mueller is. At the least, Wray was trying to cover himself today by asserting that Trump hasn’t tried to unduly influence him. One could also cynically interpret this as Wray trying to make Trump look good in general, by pointing out that Trump has behaved over the past five weeks.
But no, Wray did not assert today that Donald Trump hasn’t tried to interfere with the Russia investigation overall. The Politico article and headline in question are accurate. The false assertion appears to have come from some social media participants having misunderstood the headline, and then having failed to read the accompanying article.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report