Christopher Wray

Mary Mathis-USA TODAY

FBI Director Wray Weighs In On State Of White House, Threats From Russia, China

September 13, 2018 - 1:56 pm
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WASHINGTON (WCBS 880/CBS News) -- FBI Director Christopher Wray says Americans can feel confident in the election results this November.

CBS News spoke exclusively with Wray at the bureau’s headquarters in Washington. “CBS This Morning” co-host Norah O'Donnell asked about the anonymous New York Times op-ed that described a White House in turmoil.

“Instead of asking, ‘Did you write it?’ I thought the question was really, ‘Do you agree with what the person wrote about what's happening inside the Oval Office, that there are people trying to protect the American people from the President pf the United States?’” O’Donnell told WCBS 880’s Pat Farnack. “He said that's not the experience that he's had.”

Norah O’Donnell:The president has said that he wants the attorney general to investigate who wrote that anonymous New York Times op-ed. Do you believe, as the president does, that this is an issue of national security?”

Christopher Wray: “Well, first off, I can tell you I didn't write it, I didn't have anything to do with it. Second, I would tell you that we're not really in the practice of confirming or discussing whether we're going to be conducting a particular investigation. I would tell you that we're going to make decisions about that kind of thing based on all the factors we normally do, which is whether or not we have sufficient evidence of federal crime.”

O’Donnell: “You've said you did not write the New York Times –”

Wray:Right.”

O’Donnell:op-ed. I know that you have denied that. But – but I want to ask you about the content. It described the president's leadership style as, quote, "impetuous," "adversarial," "petty," and "ineffective." It said that the root of the president's problems is, quote, "amorality." Does that sound like the president you know?”

Wray:I try very hard to make sure that my relationship with the president is a professional one. ... And beyond that, I'm not going to really be weighing in on opinions, especially anonymously-expressed opinions. I can tell you that there are lots of ways for people to express their views and their disagreements. For me, the idea of doing it through an anonymous op-ed is about the furthest thing from my mind.”

O’Donnell said Wray also said his experience did not match Bob Woodward’s characterization of a White House in turmoil and an executive branch having a nervous breakdown in his new book “Fear: Trump in the White House.” But Woodward told CBS News, “Look, that just may not be the experience that the FBI director has,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell noted that Wray was one of very few administration officials who have kept out of Trump’s crosshairs, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and in some ways, Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

“These men are keeping their head down, focused on their job. As director Wray told me, he's to keep calm and tackle hard. The FBI, 37,000 strong, is involved in protecting America from another terrorist attack; protecting us from Russia, who is trying to interfere in our midterm elections; and protecting us from China, who Director Wray told us is stealing up to $600 billion in trade secrets every day,” O’Donnell said. “So we got to stay focused on the issues about what's really happening in our country.”

O’Donnell asked Wray at length about both Russia and China.

O’Donnell: Let me turn now to Russia and its malign activities. … When Vladimir Putin said that Russia has never interfered and is not going to interfere in American affairs, including the election process, was he lying?

Wray: “Well, again, I'm not going to accuse somebody of lying. I'll just say that that doesn't jive with our read of the evidence, and we're pretty confident in our read.”

O’Donnell:What is Russia doing to disrupt the midterms that are now just about 60 days away?”

Wray:So what we're seeing now is a continuation of the – what we call malign foreign influence efforts. … What they do is sow both inaccurate information, disinformation, it's a kind of information warfare, and then propaganda. Exaggerated half-truths, distortions.”

O’Donnell:Why are we letting this happen? Why are we letting Russia do this? We have the greatest law enforcement agency in the world, the FBI. We have the most powerful tech companies in the world. Why are we allowing Russia to do this?”
                       
Wray: I don't view us as allowing them to do anything. I think we're countering it. We are working hard to counter it more and more effective all the time.”

O’Donnell:How are we countering it? How are we fighting back?”

Wray: “Well, in some cases, we have law enforcement investigations that lead to charges. In some cases, we have steps that the technology companies can take themselves… And in some cases, we're raising awareness. Because the best defense against disinformation and propaganda is accurate information.”

O’Donnell:So come November... can Americans be confident that it was a fair election?”

Wray:I think Americans can have confidence in our election system.”

Despite headlines about Russian meddling, the FBI director said China is the single biggest threat to Americans.

Wray: “If I look at our counterintelligence mission overall, China is our top priority in that space… We've had cases involving everything from turbine technology in places like upstate New York to corn seed development in Iowa.”

O’Donnell:What do you mean corn seed? They're trying to steal our corn seed?”

Wray:Well, of course we have, I think America's agriculture is the envy of the world and we're very proud of it and we should be. And whenever we're the best at something, somebody else is chasing us….It's something that I think most Americans don't understand.”

O’Donnell: “But what are they trying to steal? What do they want?”

Wray:They're trying to steal our trade secrets, our ideas, our innovation.”

O’Donnell:The U.S. trade representative put a figure on the theft of intellectual property and it's up to $600 billion annually. That's enormous.

Wray: The thing that people need to understand is that this has an impact on everyday people. It has an impact on American businesses. It has an impact on American jobs. It has an impact on American consumers.”

O’Donnell: “How so?”

Wray:Well, China's goal is to take what it can and become essentially self-sufficient and put American businesses out of business.”

O’Donnell:Well, to replace America as the world's economic superpower.”

Wray:I think that's their goal and they're pretty open about it.”

O’Donnell:It's not only these individuals who are engaged in spying, it's companies. You've raised concerns about the Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE. Why are they national security risks?”

Wray:Well, anytime you start talking about foreign companies that are beholden to foreign governments that don't share our values and our dedication to the rule of law…It enables them to conduct economic espionage. It enables them to conduct different kinds of cyberattacks. It enables them to steal information in a variety of ways.”

More excerpts from O’Donnell and Wray’s interview from CBS News.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. CBS News contributed to this report.)