WASHINGTON (AP) — FBI Director Christopher Wray was the target of White House criticism for the second time in a week Friday as Chief of Staff Mark Meadows chided him over remarks made a day earlier to Congress about voter fraud.
Meadows suggested in an interview with CBS that Wray was ill-informed when he told the Senate that there has not been any significant coordinated national voter fraud.
Wray, who last week drew criticism from President Donald Trump for his description of Russian election interference and the threat posed by the anti-fascist movement known as antifa, said in Senate testimony that the U.S. has only experienced occasional voter fraud and on a local level.
It was the latest sign of tension between the president and senior officials over election security, as Trump and his associates seek to minimize intelligence community reports that Russia is again seeking to influence voters on his behalf as it did in 2016. Trump and other administration officials have been eager to keep the focus on the threat from China, with the president tweeting angrily last week after Wray’s testimony on election interference was centered instead on Russia.
Meadows was critical in his CBS interview of the director, tying his remarks on voter fraud to a probe of the FBI’s handling of Russian links to the Trump campaign. The president and his allies have denounced the investigation, which a watchdog has said was flawed but legitimate overall.
“Well, with all due respect to Director Wray, he has a hard time finding e-mails in his own FBI, let alone figuring out whether there is any kind of voter fraud.”
He then suggested that Wray needed more information about the allegations of voter fraud that have surfaced in several places.
“Perhaps he needs to get involved on the ground and then he would change his testimony on Capitol Hill,” Meadows said.
It was unusually pointed criticism of an FBI director, especially one who was appointed by Trump.
In his testimony to the Senate Homeland Security committee on Thursday, Wray said the FBI takes “all election-related threats seriously,” including voter fraud or voter suppression.
But in response to a question from Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, the FBI director said the agency has not seen evidence of widespread voter fraud, at least not to date.
“Now, we have not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise,” he said. “We have seen voter fraud at the local level from time to time.”
It was the kind of nuanced answer that riled Trump last week when Wray was asked at a House hearing by lawmakers about antifa, and its role in the violence that has marred peaceful protests in recent months.
Wray said antifa activists were a serious concern and that the FBI has launched investigations into people who identity with it and have engaged in violence. But, he said, “It’s not a group or an organization. It’s a movement or an ideology,” which angered the president and some of his supporters who want to see it treated like a terrorist group.
He told the Senate this week that people who associate themselves with antifa have organized locally or regionally but not at a national level. He also said there were “militia types” under investigation for violent activities during the protests as well.
“We sometimes refer to it as almost like a salad bar of ideology, a little bit of this, a little bit of that,” he said.