© Reuters. FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before a House Judiciary Committee hearing on “oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation” and alleged politicization of law enforcement, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 12, 2023. REUTERS/Jonathan Er

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – FBI Director Chris Wray rejected Republicans’ wide-ranging criticism at a congressional hearing on Wednesday that targeted everything from the bureau’s handling of a probe into Hunter Biden to claims it encouraged social media companies to censor conservative views.

Wray appeared before the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee panel for the first time since former President Donald Trump was indicted for retaining highly classified documents and obstructing justice.

His appearance also marks the first time he has testified since President Joe Biden’s son Hunter was criminally charged with two misdemeanor tax counts, while avoiding a felony gun charge through a pretrial diversion agreement with prosecutors.

Republicans have repeatedly accused the FBI and other federal agencies of “weaponizing” their law enforcement and regulatory powers to silence critics on the right, target political enemies and protect political allies.

House Republicans have claimed without evidence that the documents case against Trump is politically motivated.

They have also pointed to testimony by an IRS whistleblower as proof that the department interfered with the Hunter Biden probe – a claim that both Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney in charge of the probe have denied.

“Are you protecting the Bidens?” asked Republican Representative Matt Gaetz.

“Absolutely not,” replied Wray, a fellow Republican who has increasingly become the target of Republicans’ wrath.

Several Republican lawmakers also grilled Wray about whether the bureau pressures social media companies to silence conservative views, after a Trump-appointed federal judge in Louisiana last week sided with the Republican attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri and blocked the FBI and other federal agencies from communicating with social media firms about moderating content on their platforms.

The July 4 ruling from U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty found that the Republican states were likely to prevail in their lawsuit to prove that the Biden administration had “used its power to silence” critics online who opposed everything from the 2020 election results to COVID-19 vaccines.

Wray on Wednesday staunchly disagreed with the judge’s ruling, saying the Federal Bureau of Investigation is only focused on combating foreign malign influence – and not free speech.

The Justice Department has since asked a federal appeals court to stay the lower court’s ruling pending appeal.

“The idea that I am biased against conservatives seems somewhat insane to me, given my own personal background,” Wray said.

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