WASHINGTON - FBI Director Christopher Wray has ordered an internal review of how the bureau handled its investigation of Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, the bureau said in a statement Friday.
The review, which will be handled by the FBI's inspection division, will both seek to "determine whether any current employees engaged in misconduct," and evaluate broader FBI policies and procedures to "identify any improvements that might be warranted," the statement said.
The review is unusual, particularly because Attorney General William Barr already had commissioned St. Louis U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen earlier this year to examine the handling of Flynn's case. The statement said the FBI's review would "complement" that work, and Jensen's examination would take priority. Jensen is one of a number of U.S. attorneys whom Barr has commissioned to investigate matters of interest to Trump.
"I don't know what the point is, other than to appease the attorney general," Gregory Brower, a former FBI official who served under Wray, said of the new review. "There's a pattern of wanting to be able to say certain things are being investigated."
Trump has complained publicly about Wray for "skirting" the debate about the FBI's 2016 investigation of possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign to influence the election, of which the Flynn case was a part. He has even suggested Wray's future as FBI director might be in doubt.
People close to the president, though, have said he does not seem inclined to fire Wray, and Barr has publicly defended the FBI director, calling him "a great partner to me in our effort to restore the American people's confidence in both the Department of Justice and the FBI."
Trump appointed Wray as FBI director in 2017, and he is supposed to have a 10-year term to keep his position insulated from politics.
"It's disappointing," Trump told Fox News earlier this month when asked about Wray's role in ongoing reviews of the FBI's handling of the Russia investigation. "Let's see what happens with him. Look, the jury's still out."
Wray's move could partially placate Trump, as it suggests the FBI director is heeding his repeated calls to explore what the president sees as malfeasance in the Russia investigation. But the FBI statement made clear its impact would be limited.
Trump has pushed for criminal prosecutions of those involved in the case. The FBI noted it "does not have the prosecutorial authority to bring a criminal case."
While the FBI said current employees could face discipline, most of those involved in the matter that have drawn Trump's ire - including former FBI director James Comey, former deputy director Andrew McCabe, and former counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok - are no longer employed there.
"As for former employees, the FBI does not have the ability to take any disciplinary action," the statement said.
Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to agents about conversations he had with a Russian diplomat. Trump had fired him as national security adviser for lying to the vice president about the same thing. But as he awaited sentencing, Flynn changed legal teams and sought to undo his plea, alleging a host of misconduct, including that he was entrapped by the FBI agents who interviewed him.
At Jensen's recommendation, the Justice Department this month took the rare step of asking the court to throw out the case entirely, deciding that agents did not have a good reason to interview Flynn in the first place. Two FBI agents had been detailed to Jensen's team, and officials said there had been discussions about an internal FBI review after he made his recommendation to drop the case.
The department's move has proven controversial, with many legal observers asserting that Barr seemed to be trying to help a friend of the president. A career prosecutor assigned to the case withdrew from the matter before the department changed its position. But many on the political right hailed the move, and Trump heaped praise on his attorney general.