FOIA Reveals FBI Arranged WSJ’s Damage-Control Mar-a-Lago Puff Piece on Christopher Wray: ‘Humanizes the Director’

Craig Bannister | March 18, 2024
Text Audio
00:00 00:00
Font Size

The FBI had the Wall Street Journal write a puff piece on then-FBI Director Christopher Wray in order to do damage control after the unprecedented and controversial raid on former Pres. Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in 2022, newly-obtained documents reveal.

It took a lawsuit by Bloomberg and its Senior Investigative Reporter Jason Leopold, but the FBI has now responded to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted by the outlet, as Leopold reported in a Bloomberg article Friday.

Leopold had requested the FBI provide any records of employees protesting the Mar-a-Lago raid and threats made to those employees who had objected to the raid. While the FBI initially responded by claiming it would take years to comply, it quickly turned over the documents after Bloomberg’s lawsuit was filed.

The documents show that the FBI was weathering a backlash to the Aug. 8, 2020 raid – not just from Republican officials and Trump supporters, but also from FBI employees who quickly complained to their employer that the raid and search were politically-motivated, lacked probable cause, and devastated the bureau’s credibility.

“I've lost just about all faith in our leadership,” one agent wrote to a division of the FBI that handles employee concerns. In his email, the agent blamed “A bunch of democrat (sic) political hacks up top” for ordering the search of Trump’s Florida home:

“They owe our workforce an explanation of their overt political antics.”

Another FBI employee blasted “the politicizing and absolute embarrassment of the recently formed Banana Republic [Bureau]”:

“1) What is the predication of the investigation involving the search? It better be more than putting a few documents in the archives or classified material of which the man could have declassed,

”2) What is the PC of the warrant? It better not involve any type of political opposition.

”3) Provided 1 & 2 are legit, why didn't someone work with one of the former POTUS's delagates (sic) to resolve the problem"? I doubt it was the least intrusive method, and they probably wanted the publicity.

”The 7th floor needs to lead and provide faith back in our organization if it's even possible.”

Feeling the heat, the FBI arranged for The Wall Street Journal to publish a transparently-fawning puff piece on Director Wray and the Mar-a-Lago raid. On Aug. 19, 2022 (11 days after the raid), The Journal published an article titled “FBI Director Christopher Wray Tried to Keep the Bureau Out of Politics. Then Came Mar-a-Lago Search,” based on an interview with Wray.

The very first sentence of the article connects Wray to patriotic images:

“FBI Director Christopher Wray stood before immense paintings of an eagle and an American flag at the field office here last week to talk about how agents had use a tip from Ireland to help save a local hospital from a ransomware attack.”

Later, it strains to connect Wray to the image of FBI agents killed in the line of duty:

“Mr. Wray addressed in an interview Thursday in his office on the seventh floor of FBI headquarters in Washington, where a plaque on his wall memorializes the nine agents killed in the line of duty under his tenure.”

Attention to Mar-a-Lago is distracting the media from Wray’s achievements and efforts to “focus on other priorities,” the article complains.

One document obtained by Bloomberg shows that, the day after the story was published, Wray’s Chief of Staff, Jonathan Lenzner, boasted to top FBI officials that “This story worked out well.”

Lenzer praised how The Wall Street Journal article portrayed Dir. Wray as someone who is hard-working, does the right thing, focuses on his work, and tries to “keep the FBI away from politics.”

Lenzner also assured the top FBI officials that the article “humanizes” Wray:

“This story humanizes the Director and gives an inside look at how he and the FBI are focused on the work and how we are not deterred by the drama.”

Indeed, the article does attempt to “humanize” the controversial FBI director, by portraying him as a popular, easy-going, nice guy who believed in teamwork when he was a college athlete (he crewed at Yale), and who had been in danger of losing his job due to Donald Trump:

“Mr. Wray's low-key approach has drawn the support of many agents.”

“Mr. Wray has grown more visibly relaxed and off-the-cuff in public during his tenure, to the point of telling self-deprecating jokes.”

“A former senior Justice Department official and corporate lawyer who rowed crew at Yale, Mr. Wray stresses teamwork.”

“During the Trump administration, Justice Department officials said they were unsure from one week to the next whether Mr. Wray might be fired.”

“Mr. Wray identified a number of moments that have stuck with him from his tenure so far.”

In the end, Director Wray didn’t let the Mar-a-Lago controversy distract him from his daily work of fighting child pornography and bonding with servicemembers, the Wall Street Journal article says:

“In the days following the Mar-a-Lago search, Mr. Wray went about regular business. In Omaha, he got an update on a child-pornography case and other matters, viewed a new software tool to help write affidavits, spoke to the new recruits at Quantico and took pictures with their families.”