Four days after President Trump tweeted that the FBI's reputation was "in tatters," FBI Director Christopher A. Wray staunchly defended the federal law enforcement agency Thursday, telling Congress "there is no finer institution."
"We are determined to be the very best at protecting the American people and upholding the rule of law," Wray told the House Judiciary Committee.
Asked about Trump's disparaging tweet, Wray answered carefully.
"There is no shortage of opinions out there," he said. "The FBI I see is tens of thousands of brave men and women that are working hard. The FBI that I see is people, decent people, committed to the highest principles of dignity and professionalism and respect."
He also acknowledged he doesn't use the president's favorite form of social media.
"My folks would tell you I'm not really a Twitter guy," Wray said. "I've never tweeted, do not have any plans to tweet, don't really engage in tweeting."
The FBI has been buffeted by Republican criticism of the special counsel's investigation of the Trump campaign's contacts with Russian officials, which Trump has called a hoax, and by Trump's more personal attacks on Wray's predecessor, James B. Comey.
In the hearing, Republicans pushed Wray to block any anti-Trump biases in the FBI while Democrats pressed him to stand up to the White House and keep the bureau independent.
The president tweeted on Sunday that Comey's four years at the helm of the FBI left the bureau's reputation "in Tatters — worst in History!"
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the House committee chairman, appeared to back that view, saying Thursday that "it does appear to me that, at the very least, the FBI's reputation as an impartial, nonpolitical agency has been called into question."
After Trump fired Comey in May, he said he made the decision because of what he called "the Russia thing," the investigation into whether any of Trump's associates had aided Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III was named special counsel and took over the probe in the political tumult that followed Comey's ouster.
Since then, Mueller has filed criminal charges against four of Trump's former aides. Two, including his former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the committee's ranking member, urged Wray to stand up to Trump's criticism.
"I believe that these attacks on the FBI will grow louder and more brazen as the special counsel does his work and the walls close in around the president, and evidence of his obstruction and other misdeeds becomes more apparent," Nadler said.
Critics called the FBI's impartiality into question after Mueller removed Peter Strzok, a senior agent, from the case in the summer for sending text messages that could be considered anti-Trump. The agent previously had worked on the investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email server.
"We do not know the magnitude of this insider bias on Mr. Mueller's team," Goodlatte said. He called it "absolutely unacceptable for FBI employees to permit their own political predilections to contaminate any investigation."
Wray defended Mueller, however, calling him "very well respected" and saying he concurred with a recent tweet by Comey that called the FBI honest, strong and independent. Wray likely would take over the Russia probe if Trump moves to fire Mueller.
Wray was confirmed by the Senate on Aug. 1. He previously worked as a federal prosecutor in Georgia and was a high-ranking Department of Justice official in President George W. Bush's administration. He was in private practice when Trump tapped him for the post.
12:33 p.m.: Updated with additional quotes from the hearing.
8:40 a.m.: Updated with quotes from the hearing.