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House panel sets hearing to hold FBI director in contempt of Congress

The House Oversight Committee plans to vote Thursday to hold FBI Director Christopher Wray in contempt over what they say is the bureau's refusal to hand over records tied to the GOP-led panel's investigation into President Biden and his family.
Drew Angerer
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The House Oversight Committee plans to vote Thursday to hold FBI Director Christopher Wray in contempt over what they say is the bureau's refusal to hand over records tied to the GOP-led panel's investigation into President Biden and his family.

House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., said he's seen enough to move forward with plans for a contempt hearing against FBI Director Christopher Wray over his handling of a GOP-led investigation into President Biden and his family, setting the matter for a Thursday meeting.

The unprecedented move to hold an FBI director in contempt comes after Comer and other GOP members claimed the agency was withholding information tied to a investigation.

Earlier Monday, Comer and the Oversight panel's top ranking Democrat, Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, were briefed behind closed doors by the FBI about the record in question.

"At the briefing, the FBI again refused to hand over the unclassified record to the custody of the House Oversight Committee, and we will now initiate contempt of Congress hearings this Thursday," Comer told reporters.

Comer and other Republicans claim the document is tied to their investigation alleging Biden, as vice president under President Obama, engaged in a bribery scheme with a foreign national. The Biden White House slammed the claims.

"This is yet another fact-free stunt staged by Chairman Comer not to conduct legitimate oversight, but to spread thin innuendo to try to damage the president politically and get himself media attention," a White House spokesman, Ian Sams, said in a statement.

The Oversight meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday.

If the panel votes to hold Wray in contempt, the measure would move to the full House, where Republicans have a four-seat majority, for a vote.

Raskin, the top Democrat on the panel, called the plans for a contempt citation against Wray "absolutely ridiculous." He noted that he, like Comer, saw the FBI document in question, but Comer changed his request to ask for a physical copy.

"The committee has gotten exactly what the committee has asked for, which is this document," Raskin told reporters. "We were there today reading the document, looking at the document and then the chairman said, 'Oh, well, we want the physical document itself.' So they keep ... relocating the goal posts in order to find some reason to hold the FBI director in contempt of Congress for the first time in American history."

Raskin, who served on the select Jan. 6 panel, said that his former committee set a bipartisan example of when to pursue contempt charges, as it did in the cases of Steve Bannon and others. (Although most Republicans boycotted the panel, GOP Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois took part in it. Neither is still in the House.) Raskin said he and other Democrats would work to convince other Republicans to reject the move, which he argued was tied to former President Trump.

"That is a distraction and a side show from what is going on with (former President) Donald Trump," who is facing potential charges tied to several criminal cases, Raskin said. "I think it's Donald Trump who wants to make sure that the Republican party is doing everything they can to undermine the FBI, impugn the FBI and just dirty up the work of law enforcement."

The FBI on Monday pushed back against Comer's claims.

"The FBI has continually demonstrated its commitment to accommodate the committee's request, including by producing the document in a reading room at the U.S. Capitol," the Bureau said in a statement. "This commonsense safeguard is often employed in response to congressional requests and in court proceedings to protect important concerns, such as the physical safety of sources and the integrity of investigations. The escalation to a contempt vote under these circumstances is unwarranted."

NPR's Carrie Johnson contributed to this report

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Claudia Grisales
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.