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Sen. Mike Lee quizzes FBI director Christopher Wray in Senate hearing — what questions did he ask?

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 23, 2019. Wray's appearance before the committee could be something of a preview of the intense questioning special counsel Robert M
FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 23, 2019. Wray's appearance before the committee could be something of a preview of the intense questioning special counsel Robert Mueller is likely to face in Congress the next day.
Susan Walsh, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — FBI Director Christopher Wray told a Senate panel Tuesday that the agency does not download driver's license photos in states' databases for random facial recognition searches.

"It's not like all DMV photos are available for the FBI to roam around in," he said. The FBI must make requests to states to run searches in their databases for "lead value" to help agents figure out if they're on the right track, he said.

"There's no one out there getting arrested much less convicted based solely on a facial recognition match," Wray said.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, raised the issue during Wray's appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, citing recent news reports that the FBI has been using state driver's license databases, including Utah's, to do facial recognition searches.

Lee noted that the FBI has its own databases that contain photos.

"But unlike other databases that it maintains, most of the photos in any states' driver's license database are not going to be of people who have been convicted of crimes," he said.

Lee also questioned Wray about the FBI investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether the agency has followed up on allegedly false statements witnesses made during the confirmation hearing for now U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The Washington Post reported last month that in at least three states that offer driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, FBI and U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement officials have requested to electronically analyze driver's license. At least two of those states, Utah and Vermont, complied, searching their photos for matches.

But the Utah Department of Public Safety refuted the assertion that it allows federal agents to mine Utahns' driver's license photos using facial recognition technology. It said it requires police agencies to make requests for searches that are tied to an active investigation.

In the Senate hearing, Lee also questioned Wray about the integrity of the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign's suspected ties to Russia during the presidential election.

"We know what happened in part because we've seen text messages between FBI investigators that show strong bias against then candidate Donald Trump," Lee said. "These texts suggest agents saw the purpose of the investigation as being very specific, that is to stop Donald Trump from becoming president of the United States."

Wray said he's essentially turned over the leadership team, adopted new policies and held training "to remind everybody it is not just objectivity in what we do but the appearance of objectivity in what we do that's so important."

The FBI, he said, has made mistakes and taken appropriate disciplinary action when they have occurred.

Lee also asked Wray if the FBI has followed up on referrals from former Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley about witnesses in the Kavanaugh hearings who he alleged knowingly made false statements.

Wray said he is aware of the referrals but would not comment on whether there is an investigation.