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FBI director defends agency’s credibility, independence amid accusations of wrongdoing | KFOX

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WASHINGTON (TND) — FBI director Christopher Wray urged lawmakers to renew a law that allows the agency to conduct warrantless surveillance outside the U.S. amid bipartisan calls for reform due to concerns about privacy violations of U.S. citizens.

Wray appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday for the top law enforcement agency’s regular oversight hearing. His appearance comes as Congress has a series of issues connected to the FBI before it and limited time or partisan divisions presenting obstacles to finding a solution.

Along with renewing the authorization of the surveillance tool, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, some Republican lawmakers have also called for cutting the agency’s funding, blocking the construction of a new headquarters to replace its dilapidated Washington location amid complaints about the handling of the investigation into the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol and investigation of President Joe Biden’s son Hunter.

Tuesday’s hearing also comes as the U.S. is facing a heightened level of threats at home and abroad amid the wars in Ukraine and Gaza. Wray told a separate Senate committee last month that the threat of international terrorism targeting the U.S. has spiked since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

“What I would say that is unique about the environment that we’re in right now in my career is that while there may have been times over the years where individual threats could have been higher here or there than where they may be right now, I’ve never seen a time where all the threats or so many of the threats are all elevated, all at exactly the same time,” Wray said.

One of the most pressing issues facing lawmakers in a busy finish to the year is deciding whether to renew Section 702, which will expire on Dec. 31 without congressional action.

Wray told lawmakers that allowing it to lapse would be dangerous to national security and would be “devastating” to its ability to counter threats.

“Blinding ourselves through either allowing 702 to lapse or amending it in a way that guts its effectiveness would be reckless at best and dangerous and irresponsible at worst,” Wray said. “The reality is the whole reason we have 702 focused on foreign threats from overseas is to protect America from those threats. It’s not to admire foreign threats from afar and study them and think about them. It’s to know what they are and to make sure they don’t hurt Americans here.”

There are several bills with potential reforms up for debate in the House and Senate, some of which include a new requirement for agents to obtain a warrant before running a search on digital communications for information on U.S. citizens. National security officials in support of renewing Section 702 argue that a warrant requirement would make the powerful surveillance tool much less useful and effective.

“What if there were a terrorist attack that we had a shot to prevent, but couldn’t take it, because the FBI was deprived of the ability under 702 to look at key information already sitting in our holdings?” Wray said during Tuesday’s hearing.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said they supported the FBI’s ability to combat terrorism by using information obtained from Section 702, but still had concerns about innocent Americans getting wrapped up in the searches.

Also at issue for Wray was accusations the FBI and broader justice system has been politicized against conservative Americans and former President Donald Trump, who is facing multiple federal indictments.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, accused Wray of allowing the bureau to become overcome by partisan political preferences by career officials.

“You’re simply sitting blindly by while career partisans in your agency allow it to be weaponized, and you are damaging the FBI and you are damaging the Department of Justice,” Cruz said.

Other Republicans at the hearing also asked Wray about the bureau’s involvement in an investigation into Hunter Biden, a yearslong affair that dates back to the Trump administration. A pair of IRS whistleblowers have alleged that the probe into his overseas business dealings and tax violations was slow-walked due to political influence.

Wray declined to directly answer most questions about Hunter Biden or Trump because both investigations remain ongoing, a longstanding DOJ policy. He did say that his agency was directed to follow the facts in any investigation regardless of the subject or political consequences.

“My instructions to our people on this and on every other investigation are that we’re to follow the facts wherever they lead, no matter who likes it, no matter what political influence,” he said.

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