FBI chief sees no evidence of White House interference in Russia probe

FILE PHOTO - FBI Director nominee Christopher Wray sits during a meeting with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

By Sarah N. Lynch WASHINGTON (Reuters) - FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Thursday he has "not detected any whiff of interference" by the White House into the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Speaking publicly for the first time since being confirmed as head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Wray also expressed confidence in Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating whether President Donald Trump's campaign colluded with Russia during the election. "I can say very confidently that I have not detected any whiff of interference with that investigation," Wray said during a panel discussion at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington. Wray was installed as FBI director after his predecessor, James Comey, was fired by Trump in May. In an interview with NBC after Comey's removal, Trump admitted he was thinking about "this Russia thing" when he decided to fire the then-FBI chief. Comey later told Congress he believed Trump had tried to get him to drop an FBI probe into former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, as part of the broader Russia investigation - testimony that has raised questions about whether Trump was potentially trying to obstruct justice. The White House has repeatedly denied the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in the election. Trump's advisers and allies also have questioned Mueller's independence and credibility, with some pointing out that he has hired attorneys who have given political donations to Democrats. But Wray said he has "enormous respect" for Mueller, who is also a former FBI director. He stressed that Mueller is running the probe but said the FBI is assisting by dedicating agents and providing other support to the investigation. Wray also reiterated his confidence in a January report compiled by U.S. intelligence agencies which concluded that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election and tried to tilt it in Trump's favour - a finding Trump has often questioned. Prior to his confirmation as FBI director, Wray had only read a non-classified version of the report. "I have no reason to doubt the conclusions that the hard- working people who put that together came to," Wray said. (Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Paul Simao)