Why Trump's FBI head Christopher Wray urged withholding the Nunes memo

When the FBI objected to release of the Nunes memo, at the reported urging of President Trump’s hand-picked successor to James Comey as FBI Director, Christopher Wray, the temptation to dismiss him as another deep state operative was understandable. All the more so when CNN and The Daily Beast’s fabulist Spencer Ackerman pushed the story that he was ready to resign yesterday. Naturally, the rest of the Trump-hating media picked up the story and ran with feverish hopes for a second Saturday Night Massacre, with its scent of President Trump’s departure in disgrace 45years ago..

Maybe so. But maybe the story is a little more complex, and maybe President Trump has his reasons for continuing to express confidence in the man he chose to reform a powerful agency that appears to have been hijacked at the top executive level.

For starters, the resignation threat appears to be fake news (again!).  Streiff of RedState:

…CNN has walked back their story

Wray has not directly threatened to resign after clashing with Trump over the possible release of the memo, the source added, because that is not his style of dealing with conflict.

Another person familiar with discussions about the memo said Wray didn’t threaten to quit when he met with Kelly earlier this week and in numerous conversations since, but White House chief of staff John Kelly believes that is a real possibility and has been working on a way to avoid another departure from an already turbulent Trump administration.

There is a recognition, however, that Wray leaving could set off a chain reaction of events inside the law enforcement agency. Top officials inside the bureau have been trying to identify who might be considered a “Trump guy” in the order of succession in the bureau’s organizational chart, another law enforcement official said.

The operant word in the last paragraph is “could” – which means CNN hopes it happens but has no basis for claiming it will happen.

Streiff thinks Wray was “suckered” earlier, but now knows better:

 I suspect that about the time Wray told McCabe to pack his sh** and get off the battlefield he realized that he’s been suckered into supporting senior staff who are deeply and maybe criminally compromised. Wray may be angry about being ignored on the memo but he’s going to be furious about being set up for a public buggering.

I have another theory, and Paul Sperry of the New York Post today provides a counterpoint that lays the groundwork:

FBI Director Christopher Wray is slowly but surely sweeping partisan operatives out of the bureau’s executive suites all on his own. On the job just a few months, Wray told Congress in December he wanted to wait and see the evidence before taking any action against high-level investigators accused of bias and misconduct. Over the weekend, he saw some of that evidence, and it convinced him to remove his own deputy, Andrew McCabe.

“Wray is a smart, experienced attorney,” former assistant FBI Director Ron Hosko told me. “He’s not gonna fold to BS pressure with no facts, so he saw something solid, something from the agency’s inspector general, who has been investigating political conflicts and irregularities involving McCabe for more than a year.”

Whatever Wray saw wasn’t manufactured by the White House. It came from Justice Department watchdog Michael Horowitz, who launched his probe at the request of Democrats.

My guess (it is only a guess because I have no contact with him) is that Wray understands the enormity of the task he faces, and is taking a slow and deliberate approach to it. He is in many ways like a new CEO recruited to turn around a large corporation, but without the ability to lay off people, close or sell poorly performing divisions, and cumbersome civil service protections constraining his ability to discipline his troops. He has barely 3 months in office at this point:

Swearing in as FBI Director, October 27, 2017

As a consultant, I have had the privilege to be involved in multi-year organziational change projects in some very large corporations, where there are degrees of freedom for top management that Wray could only envy. But as one CEO put it, "The president [of this company] is not almighty." There are many hazzards for the insufficiently wary change agent.

The first thing Wray must do is avoid the trap of taking any actions that could be successfully contested. Even though the executive levels of the FBI do not enjoy civil service protections, they have promoted and placed staff allies with those protections at critical organizational positions. Those allies can slow walk desired actions, bottle up critical information (that can set-up the CEO for embarrsment and failure), and resist him in countless ways that will not be discovered for a long time, if ever.

In order to combat these moles, Wray's principal counter-weapon has to be the mainstream FBI professionals, the ones who genuinely are committed to truth, justice and the American way, the ones who are embarrassed and appalled at what they have seen of the corruption. They are the ones who can spot the “resistance” forces, call out their activities, and counteract their politicization. There are a lot of long knives that start to be unsheated when careers are imperiled.

The most important weapon in mobilizing these allies is the powerful culture of the FBI, a culture that sustains the dedication expected of FBI professionals. He has to reinforce the positive aspects of that culture and turn them to the goals he and President Trump hold: removing politics from their operations and uncovering the abuses that have taken place since the poltiicization of the Obama years.

One of the foundations of the FBI’s organizational culture ever since founder J. Edgar Hoover’s days has been the imperative to avoid embarrassing the Bureau. Since uncovering corruption inevitably will embarrass the FBI, it is important that Wray establish the principle that only provable misconduct will be revealed and then punished. He must be seen not as a wrecking ball, but as someone who will restore the FBI’s standing and win back public trust by being totally honest, while protecting innocents from false accusations.

In this context, his reported urging of redaction of names in the Nunes memo can be seen as an effort to protect the good guys, not shield the bad guys. Don’t forget The Nunes memo is not the last word, for the Horowitz Inspector General’s report is going to be issued in a matter of weeks. Any shielding at this point is a short term act.

The task ahead for Wray includes moving moles out of their critical positions, firing those that can be fired for misconduct (a long and difficult process), and moving and de-fanging the others, while moving allies into positions where they can do the nitty gritty of cleaning up the messes. Those allies have to know that he has their back. An FBI Director who seemed eager to jump the gun and embarrass the agency without due process might have a much tougher time persuading people down the organization chart to take some career risks to help his reforms along over the opposition of powerful entrenched opponents currently in positions to retaliate against them.

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