LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Defending his agency in the face of relentless attacks, FBI Director Chris Wray said Wednesday he doesn't see politics creeping into the bureau's ranks, and the way to keep it that way is to focus on "doing the right thing in the right way."
During a visit to the FBI's office in Louisville, Kentucky, Wray stressed the importance of preserving the agency's independence, saying its agents should objectively follow cases "no matter where they lead," regardless of who likes or dislikes it.
As part of the public portion of his visit, Wray was asked if he has a plan to deal with any politicization of the FBI and whether it has reached into field offices. The question came during a meeting with some of the agency's private-sector partners.
"I really don't see a politicized organization," Wray said. "My focus on trying to make sure that it doesn't become one is to emphasize certain basic themes. And the first and foremost of those is that we need to be focused on doing the right thing in the right way, and to kind of make sure we're being faithful to our core values, our rules, our process."
Attacks against the FBI have come from the president who appointed him. President Donald Trump has called the FBI a biased institution and insisted the agency planted a spy to help Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent in the 2016 election.
Wray, who served as a top Justice Department official under President George W. Bush, has faced Republican criticism over perceived possible bias in special counsel Robert Mueller's probe of possible Trump campaign ties to Russia, and in the handling of an FBI investigation into Clinton's use of a private email server that ended without criminal charges.
Trump wasn't mentioned directly during Wray's appearance Wednesday.
In responding to the politicization question, Wray said the FBI must ensure that its investigative processes are "bulletproof." He said he stresses to FBI employees to focus on "how you go about things," and to pursue matters "independently and objectively, no matter where they lead and no matter who likes it."
"And I add that last part because a lot of people — not necessarily inside the FBI, but outside the FBI — sometimes nod knowingly and enthusiastically about the idea of independence and objectivity until they realize that the result may be something they don't like," Wray said. "Either a case gets brought (and) they don't like the case, or a case can't be brought and they don't like the fact that it can't be brought. That's not how independence works.
"Independence works by us following the facts according to the law, according to the rules, follow the process and then we see where it goes," he added.
Asked what he tells colleagues when visiting FBI offices, Wray said he urges them to focus on their mission to combat such scourges as human trafficking, opioid addiction, terrorism, gang violence, cybercrime and public corruption.
"We need to make sure that we don't take our eye off the ball and not lose focus on what really matters," he said. "The things that really make a difference are the lives of the people we're trying to protect, not whether or not somebody's scoring points on television or the internet."
The law enforcement mission is what "endures in the long run," he said. "This other stuff is fleeting, in my view, and is largely noise."
Asked about the FBI's role in law enforcement efforts to combat the opioid epidemic — which has become a public health crisis in Kentucky and elsewhere — Wray pointed to the agency's efforts to dismantle trafficking organizations and crack down on the overprescribing of opioids.