WASHINGTON (CN) – Confirmed to his post in July 2017, at the height of tension over the Russia investigation, FBI Director Christopher Wray promised the Senate he would quit if the president ever asked him to engage in illegal activity.
Wray stood before lawmakers again Tuesday, one day ahead of what is expected to be a marathon hearing at the House for former special counsel Robert Mueller, with little input to offer on Mueller’s probe.
“Well, senator, there was an awful amount of work done by a huge team of professionals that resulted in a 450-something-page report, and I really want to be careful not to be trying to add my own gloss or layering on top of that,” Wray said, ducking a question from California Senator Dianne Feinstein.
Asked by Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono if he had any reason to doubt Mueller’s integrity, Wray responded no.
Russian influence aside, Wray has received criticism for his view on Chinese espionage, most notably when he told the Senate Intelligence Committee in February 2018 that he was wary of foreign actors representing themselves as students in an attempt to gain state secrets.
Though none denied the threat of foreign espionage, many Democratic lawmakers challenged the notion of adding suspicion to students based on their country of origin.
Republicans on the committee nevertheless kept foreign espionage through academic institutions a main focus Tuesday for their questions of Wray.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz asked Wray if the director believed the scope of the issue was a large one and what legislators could do to address the problem.
Wray replied that the sharing of information between universities or other research institutes and students presents an issue.
“Essentially, we have a situation where we have created a pipeline, in some cases at major universities, especially at the graduate level … of key intellectual property, sometimes that has dual use potential, flowing back to China for the advancement of its various strategic plans,” Wray said. “The irony is that the U.S. is essentially funding that economic research through various money that it provides through grants.”
Louisiana Senator John Kennedy was critical of America relying on universities to vet these students alone, noting that a conflict of interest could arise since some institutions rely on these students for tuition dollars.
Wray said tackling the issue will involve empowering universities with the right tools to weed out possible threats.
“One of the things the FBI has been spending a lot of time doing is out on the ground, engaging with universities, research labs, etcetera, to try to help them understand the nature of the threat, what to be on the lookout for, etcetera,” Wray said. “So there’s a common defense quality to that.”