MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Chris Wray heads the FBI at a time when the bureau is dealing with multiple issues. Some in Congress say the FBI failed to warn adequately about the violent extremists who breached the Capitol building on January 6. The agency is also now helping to investigate shootings this week in Atlanta that left eight people dead, six of them women of Asian descent. The shooter was white. Local authorities say it is too early to declare those killings a hate crime, but they haven't ruled it out.
Now, those murders come as Asian Americans are on edge over an increase in race-based violence and the growing threat from domestic terrorism in the U.S. With all that in mind, NPR's national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson sat down today to interview Chris Wray, and she is here now to tell us about it.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So let's start with this week's mass shooting in Atlanta. President Biden has ordered flags lowered to half-staff. He is headed to Georgia tomorrow to meet with local officials, members of the Asian American community. What did the FBI director tell you about their investigation so far?
JOHNSON: Chris Wray spent a lot of his adult life in Atlanta. He raised his kids in Georgia. So the violence there hit him personally this week. Here's more of what he told me.
CHRISTOPHER WRAY: So obviously, it's a heartbreaking incident, and it hits particularly close to home for me since I consider Atlanta home. And so I certainly grieve for the victims and their families. The FBI is supporting state and local law enforcement, specifically APD - the Atlanta Police Department - and the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office. So we're actively involved but in a support role. And while the motive remains still under investigation at the moment, it does not appear that the motive was racially motivated. But I really would defer to the state and local investigation on that for now.
JOHNSON: As you know, Mary Louise, Atlanta police say that nothing is off the table when it comes to hate crimes. But the FBI director is saying it still doesn't appear to have a racial motivation.
KELLY: OK, to the insurrection. There has been criticism of the bureau, as you know, and whether it did enough before January 6 to warn people that things could get really bad. I'm sure you asked Chris Wray about that. What did he say?
JOHNSON: I did. And Chris Wray basically said that they tasked all the FBI field offices to be on the lookout for information related to the threat to the Capitol. He said they had been warning for most of last year about the possibility of domestic terrorism around the election and even after the election. And he said the FBI had disseminated a report out of Norfolk, Va., to law enforcement the day before the siege on the Capitol. Here's more from Wray.
WRAY: Now, what we did not have, as far as I can tell, is any indication that hundreds and hundreds of people were going to breach the U.S. Capitol. And so we'll be looking hard to figure out, is there more we can be doing? How can we do more even better?
JOHNSON: You know, I'm not sure how satisfying that answer is going to be to members of Congress who hold the purse strings for the FBI budget. The FBI, we know, knew enough to knock on the doors of a handful of people before January 6 to tell them not to travel to D.C. And the FBI also got some leads late last year that armed militiamen and conspiracy theorists were coming to the Capitol, but no one seemed to have the appropriate sense of alarm. And as we know, tragically, five people died there.
KELLY: Yeah. And the investigation into that and how it happened is - I think it's the largest criminal probe in the history of the Justice Department. Is that right? Where do things stand now?
JOHNSON: We've seen hundreds of arrests, and they're not done. Wray says more of the story of January 6 will fill out as they continue to investigate. He expects new charges and perhaps some more serious counts are coming against defendants who are already in the system. Now, we've had charges that involve small cells of people working together and coordinating their travel. But importantly, Chris Wray says he hasn't seen some big national conspiracy, but the FBI is going to keep digging on that.
KELLY: May I ask one more thing, Carrie? You know, in the last months of the Trump White House, it seemed like there was barely a day that went past without some new rumor that Chris Wray was about to get fired. I wonder if you - did you ask about that - just how he is doing, what life is like for him now?
JOHNSON: Mary Louise, I tried. We know that Dr. Fauci famously said that life after Trump gave him a, quote, "liberating feeling."
JOHNSON: The FBI director is a little more of the silent type, unfortunately. I did ask him whether he had a resignation letter prepared in the Trump era, hidden away somewhere. And here's how he responded.
WRAY: I guess all I would say is I'm a low-key guy. But nobody should mistake my demeanor for what my spine is made out of. And I made a commitment when I was nominated that I was going to do this job one way - by the book. And that's the way I've tried to approach it since Day 1. That's the way I'm going to continue to approach.
JOHNSON: It's now about one week since Wray got a new boss, Attorney General Merrick Garland. And Wray, who is not known for being an effusive guy, says things so far are going, quote, "terrific."
KELLY: Terrific. All right. That's NPR justice - national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson reporting on her sit-down today with the head of the FBI.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
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