With the obvious exception of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, President Trump’s advisers have generally tried to “cover” for him in public, if not compliment him. On Thursday, we saw a brilliant example of how a public official should conduct himself.
Arriving in the White House briefing room with other top national security officials, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray explained without equivocation what Russia is doing and what the FBI is doing in response, primarily through a new task force he set up:
The taskforce now brings together, across the waterfront, of FBI expertise who are talking counterintelligence, cyber, criminal, and even counterterrorism designed to root out and respond to foreign influence operations.
For their part, our adversaries’ influence operations have encompassed a wide range of activities. So just like we have a multidisciplinary response, that’s because the threat is multidisciplinary.
So just a few examples of some of the things we’ve seen over the past: targeting U.S. officials and other U.S. persons through traditional intelligence tradecraft; criminal efforts to suppress voting and provide illegal campaign financing; cyberattacks against voting infrastructure, along with computer intrusions targeting elected officials and others; and a whole slew of other kinds of influence, like both overtly and covertly manipulating news stories, spreading disinformation, leveraging economic resources, and escalating divisive issues.
He explained that the FBI is trying to prevent both “the security and integrity of our election systems,” as well as “the broader threat of influence operations designed to manipulate and influence our voters and their opinions.” He went on to describe the three pillars of his operational strategy: investigations and operations; information and intelligence sharing (among federal agencies, with states and localities as well as our allies); and cooperation with the private sector. (“Technology companies have a frontline responsibility to secure their own networks, products, and platforms,” he said. “But we’re doing our part by providing actionable intelligence to better enable them to address abuse of their platforms by foreign actors. . . . We’ve given them classify briefings. We’ve shared specific threat indicators and account information, and a variety of other pieces of information so that they can better monitor their own platforms.”)
And unlike the president, he called for a national effort. “The reality is, it’s going to take all of us working together to hold the field, because this threat is not going away,” he said. “Russia attempted to interfere with the last election, and continues to engage in malign influence operations to this day.” He concluded his prepared remarks, “This is a threat we need to take extremely seriously, and to tackle and respond to with fierce determination and focus. And together, with our partners, both those here and some of the other partners we’ve talked about, I’m confident that we can protect the integrity of our democratic institutions and maintain public confidence in our electoral process.” That is what the president should be but is unwilling to say.
The highlight of his appearance however came in the Q & A:
Q: Special Counsel Robert Mueller has indicted more than 20 Russian officials based on work by the FBI for meddling in the 2016 elections.
Now the President has tweeted that that investigation by the Special Counsel is a hoax and should be shut down. I know you’ve said that you don’t believe it is a hoax. But why would the American people believe what you’re saying about the FBI when the President says that the investigation by the Special Counsel is a hoax, and when the Press Secretary, yesterday, said that there was a lot of corruption within the FBI? Do you have any response to those statements coming from the White House?
DIRECTOR WRAY: Well, I can assure the American people that the men and women of the FBI, starting from the Director all the way on down, are going to follow our oaths and do our jobs.
Boom. No excuses for Trump. No effort to paint Trump as concerned or involved (as National Security Adviser John Bolton did so energetically). Wray gets it — his charge is to the Constitution and the American people. They don’t work for Trump. They work for us.
For providing accurate, helpful information (how novel in this administration!) and reminding us that public officials take an oath to the Constitution, we can say, well done, Director Wray.