WASHINGTON — President Trump snapped at his F.B.I. director on Tuesday for not agreeing with his interpretation of a highly anticipated government watchdog report about the legitimacy of the early stages of the Russia investigation.
The F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, said Monday that he agreed with the Justice Department’s inspector general’s conclusion that the F.B.I. agents were right to open an investigation into whether Russia was working with anyone on the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 election. Mr. Wray also outlined 40 tasks his agency must complete based on the recommendations from the inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz.
The Justice Department’s inspector general concluded that political bias had no influence in the origins of the inquiry, undercutting Mr. Trump’s longtime accusations.
Mr. Trump and some of his allies saw the dense report as proof that their conspiracy theories were in fact true. The president has claimed for years that the Russia investigation was a witch hunt pursued by “deep state” bureaucrats who did not support him politically. And he has been particularly critical of the F.B.I., calling former bureau leaders “losers.”
The timing of Mr. Trump’s suggestion that he lacks confidence in Mr. Wray’s ability to “fix” the bureau — a day after the release of such a detailed look at some of the bureau’s most important missions — suggests the president is considering a new F.B.I. director, which would be his third since he took office. The F.B.I. director position has a 10-year term limit designed to prevent political interference.
Mr. Trump appointed Mr. Wray after he fired James B. Comey as the F.B.I. director in 2017. By the time Mr. Wray became director, a special counsel had been appointed to take over the Russia investigation, and Mr. Trump was regularly lashing out at the F.B.I. During his first two years in office, Mr. Trump attacked the F.B.I., Justice Department and intelligence agencies 277 times.
Mr. Wray has sought to avoid confrontation with Mr. Trump as he navigates the bureau through one of its most turbulent eras. Mr. Wray and his aides had hoped that with the release of the inspector general report, the F.B.I. could finally move past the toxic politics of the last three years.
If the president continues his latest line of attack, Mr. Wray will have to decide how to lead the agency while his boss promulgates the inaccurate conclusion that the F.B.I. plotted to sabotage Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.
Attorney General William P. Barr on Monday publicly broke with his department’s watchdog and the F.B.I. director, pushing back against the inspector general’s conclusion about the origins of the Russia inquiry.
“The F.B.I. launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken,” Mr. Barr said.
Mr. Barr is overseeing a separate Justice Department criminal investigation into the basis of the Russia inquiry. Mr. Trump has given Mr. Barr broad access to a range of sensitive materials, some of which were not part of Mr. Horowitz’s review.
A federal prosecutor, John H. Durham, is leading the criminal investigation into the early stages of the Russia inquiry and supported the attorney general’s assessment of the report.
“Last month, we advised the inspector general that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the F.B.I. case was opened,” Mr. Durham said.