Criminal Justice & the Rule of Law Democracy & Elections

The Questions FBI Director Christopher Wray Wasn’t Asked

Tia Sewell, Benjamin Wittes
Friday, March 5, 2021, 2:50 PM

The Senate Judiciary Committee fails to hold the FBI director accountable for the massive intelligence failure for which his agency is chiefly responsible.

The U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6. (Blink O'Fanaye,; CC BY-NC 2.0,

Published by The Lawfare Institute
in Cooperation With

It was the most catastrophic intelligence failure since Sept. 11, 2001.

One of the three branches of American government faced violent invasion. The invaders threatened the lives of the speaker of the House, the vice president of the United States and all members of Congress. People died. Many more were injured. And the intruders successfully interrupted the basic functioning of American democracy: its peaceful transfer of power and its ability to honor the results of an election in which those in power lost.

Yet on March 2, the man who heads the intelligence component chiefly responsible for domestic intelligence matters, for terrorism investigations, and for combatting violent extremism appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and had a pleasant exchange with senators. The committee members seemed positively uninterested in his agency’s obvious institutional failure in the run-up to Jan. 6.

FBI Director Christopher Wray is a decent man, and he has served under incredibly difficult circumstances. We are in no sense braying for his blood. We do want to suggest, however, that the failure of senators to ask him basic questions about the FBI’s performance is an abdication of their own responsibilities. And their seeming eagerness to accept Wray’s assurances that the FBI has performed admirably in combating domestic violent extremism stands in sharp contrast to their properly inquisitorial attitude toward the performance of Defense Department officials and those responsible for security on Capitol Hill.

Wray and the FBI should not be getting a pass here.

Tia Sewell is a former associate editor of Lawfare. She studies international relations and economics at Stanford University.
Benjamin Wittes is editor in chief of Lawfare and a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of several books.

Subscribe to Lawfare