F.B.I. Confidence in Leadership Fell in Year After Comey’s Firing

Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, and his leadership team scored lower than the previous director, James B. Comey, and his team did last year in an internal survey, undercutting a rationale given by President Trump for firing Mr. Comey.

WASHINGTON — One year after President Trump fired the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, agents say they have less confidence in the ethics and vision of the bureau’s new leadership, according to internal survey data.

The survey results further undercut one of the explanations that President Trump and his aides gave for firing Mr. Comey and replacing him with Christopher A. Wray. Mr. Trump said the bureau was in turmoil and agents had lost confidence in Mr. Comey.

The internal data suggest that Mr. Trump either misread those views or mischaracterized them.

As a whole, morale at the F.B.I. remains high, despite a barrage of attacks by the president and his allies. Agents said they are proud to work at the F.B.I., believe in the mission, look forward to going to work and believe their job makes a difference. Scores in those areas remained steady.

By themselves, the numbers do not explain the decline in leadership scores. Mr. Wray was largely unknown to most agents when he came into office during one of the most tumultuous times in F.B.I. history. He brought with him a fresh leadership team and a more low-key style than his predecessor. He has also opted not to spar publicly with Mr. Trump, even as the president has attacked the bureau and accused agents of being part of a “witch hunt” against him.

Neither the overall positive results nor the declining leadership scores back up Mr. Trump’s version of events, in which he brought in Mr. Wray to stabilize a wobbly, discredited agency.

The figures were obtained through a public records request by the blog Lawfare, which conducted its own analysis and shared the raw data with The New York Times.

“Director Wray is a strong and thoughtful leader and, at the time of the survey, was early in his tenure,” said Jacqueline Maguire, an F.B.I. spokeswoman. “He continues to visit field offices to personally introduce himself to the men and women of the F.B.I., and has been extremely well received. The F.B.I. work force remains proud of its work, and is highly motivated by our vital mission to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States.”

The White House did not respond to a message seeking comment.

F.B.I. officials use the survey, collected around March each year, to identify problem areas. The survey includes dozens of questions about every aspect of bureau life, and the results are scored on a scale of up to 5. Anything above 3.81 is considered successful.

Scores this year fell to below that threshold on key questions related to F.B.I. leadership. Agents were asked whether they were inspired by the director’s vision and whether they believe his senior leadership team maintained high standards of integrity.

Agents in the field gave Mr. Wray a 3.58 for his leadership vision, a decline of two-thirds of a point. And they gave Mr. Wray and his leadership team a 3.49 on the ethics question, a half-point decline. A third question, asking whether agents had a high level of respect for senior F.B.I. executives, also resulted in lower scores, though the decline was not as steep as the other two.

Agents at headquarters in Washington also scored Mr. Wray and his team lower than they did the previous leadership team last year, but not by as wide a margin as employees working in the field.

The scores for Mr. Wray’s team still qualify as positive, but what was recently an area of strength for the F.B.I. — executive leadership — is now seen as an area for improvement.

In his short tenure, Mr. Wray has tried to navigate a perilous path, serving a president whose conduct is under F.B.I. scrutiny and who criticizes the bureau as part of a “deep state” that is working against him. As agents and prosecutors investigate Russian election interference and whether Mr. Trump’s associates were involved, Mr. Wray has generally opted not to directly take on the president to dispute such claims.

Mr. Wray’s leadership scores were particularly low among employees of the cyber and counterintelligence units and the general counsel’s office — three divisions that were deeply involved in the investigations into Russian election interference.

Mr. Wray and Mr. Comey have markedly different leadership styles. Mr. Comey used his position to be a public voice for the bureau and law enforcement officials nationwide. And he clashed with Justice Department officials who saw him as too eager to seize the spotlight. His willingness to go it alone ultimately hurt the F.B.I. during the 2016 election, when he spoke unusually publicly about an investigation into Hillary Clinton and her email practices. Internal investigators have labeled him “insubordinate” for those actions.

Mr. Wray, a former senior prosecutor during President George W. Bush’s administration, has shunned the limelight and struck a different tone. “Talk is cheap; the work you do is what will endure,” he said in a message to F.B.I. employees earlier this year.

He has also tangled with Republicans in Congress who have demanded to see records related to the special counsel investigation. He has acquiesced to some requests but refused others, leading to a tense moment last month on Capitol Hill. “Certainly, when I was minding my own business in private practice in Atlanta, I didn’t think I was going to be spending the first 10 months of my job staring down the barrel of a contempt citation,” he told lawmakers.

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