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FBI Fears Wray’s Replacement May be Border Patrol Boss
CBP’s Mark Morgan sent camouflaged agents to quell Portland protests with teargas and unmarked vans
A former supervisory FBI agent says the bureau’s senior leaders are “beyond fearful” at the possibility that President Trump will replace Director Christopher Wray with Customs and Border Patrol boss Mark A. Morgan, who came under intense criticism last July when he deployed camouflaged agents in combat gear to quell protests in Portland, Oregon.
Trump has been itching to replace Wray for an accumulation of perceived sins over the past four years, from his testimony that Russia played a covert role in the 2016 elections to, most recently, the FBI’s refusal to launch a formal investigation into shaky claims by his Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani that President-elect Joseph Biden’s son Hunter was involved in criminal business. The FBI is now investigating whether the purported Hunter Biden emails Giuliani obtained were part of a Russian covert influence operation, NBC News reported last weekend.
Even if Trump fired Wray, chances are probably small that Morgan would get a Senate nomination hearing, much less a confirmation vote in the lame duck session that ends in about seven weeks. And Wray has considerable support on Capitol Hill, including from the influential FBI Agents Association, which in late October sent a letter to both Trump and President-elect Joseph Biden urging them to keep Wray at the helm. But Trump could make him acting FBI director, as he has done with so many other appointments that could not pass muster for one reason or another.
Right wing voices in Congress and the media have been clamoring loudly for Wray’s removal, and Trump may do it out of pique.
“Wray is gone—out of here,” a Justice Department source told Newsmax, the president’s current favorite media outlet, a week before the election, speaking anonymously.
Newsmax also reported that Sidney Powell, the lawyer for disgraced former army general and Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, was “on the White House shortlist of candidates to replace” Wray.
But Kevin Blair, a decorated former supervisory special agent who retired in 2012 after 22 years with the FBI, said he’d reliably heard the bureau’s leadership was aghast at the prospect of Morgan spending the last weeks of the Trump administration as the FBI’s acting director.
“Morgan is a train wreck with credentials,” he said in a Facebook post. “The folks at the FBI are beyond fearful Morgan will be the new guy.” In a follow-up phone interview, Blair talked of dismay about Morgan on “the seventh floor” of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, where the FBI’s leadership resides.
Morgan, a former Marine and Los Angeles Police officer, joined the FBI in 1995 and was put to work against the local MS-13 gang. His last FBI appointment, in 2014, was as assistant director of the training division in Quantico, Virginia. The same year he joined Customs and Border Protection in a temporary capacity as the acting assistant commissioner for internal affairs. When he was tapped to head U.S. Border Patrol two years later, then-FBI Director James Comey praised Morgan’s “outstanding investigative work and leadership.”
“He had to,” Blair wrote on Facebook, because Comey had previously awarded Morgan one of the bureau’s plum jobs, as special agent in charge of one of its 56 regional offices, in El Paso, Texas. In the phone interview, Blair told SpyTalk Morgan got El Paso “because no one else was willing to go there.”
Thin Blue Line
Blair said he knew Morgan as “a fellow supervisory special agent in L.A.”
“I can't say he was executive-level talent, as in someone who stands out,” Blair said in his Facebook post. “He pretty much did the minimum time at every level to get promoted. I would categorize him as something between an empty suit and a hobby agent. I think his best skill was managing up, i.e. looking good to his bosses.”
A clue to Morgan’s lack-lustre career, Blair said, is that his official FBI bio doesn’t cite work on any major cases. “Whenever you see an FBI bio that doesn't even mention a significant case, you have an empty suit.”
Asked why he was speaking up against Morgan now, Blair told SpyTalk, “his lack of humanity toward immigrants and his desire to serve an anti-immigration president probably has something to do with it. I won't go into [my] lack of respect for people who made it into the SES [Senior Executive Service] without actually making a big case.”
A spokesman at Customs and Border Patrol did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The FBI did not respond to an inquiry about Morgan coming to the bureau.
During the last months of the Obama administration, Morgan came under heavy fire from the Border Patrol unions for statements about “reforming” immigration and other issues. Only days after Trump was inaugurated in January 2017, he was forced to resign. While out of government, he became a frequent guest on Fox News, where he praised Trump’s initiatives on border security, including the president’s effort to build a border wall.
“Morgan’s TV savvy quickly won the president’s favor,” PBS Newshour reported in a May 2019 profile. After an appearance on Fox and Friends, Trump tweeted that Morgan ”really understands the subjects of Immigration and the Border,” Soon after, saying he wanted to go in a “tougher direction,” Trump tapped Morgan to run Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Less than a month later, he was appointed acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
In Portland last July, Morgan deployed CBP agents kitted up in camouflage and military-style tactical gear and used unmarked vehicles to detain protestors without identifying themselves as law enforcement. Legal experts and critics denounced the action as "abduction" and "kidnapping." Oregon Governor Kate Brown described the actions as "abuse of power," and accused DHS of "provoking confrontation for political purposes.”
Morgan alleged the protestors were "violent criminals." Later he made an unsubstantiated claim that “antifa"—a loose knit anti-fascist movement—was flying organized protesters to cities across America to incite violence. When asked for evidence of his claim, Morgan did not produce any.
Blair, now a public school teacher in Arlington, Virginia, won two significant awards during his FBI career. In 2004 he was laureled with an FBI Director's Award for his work at the bureau's Terrorist Screening Center. During a posting to Baghdad, he was also decorated by the Joint Special Operations Command for his work inserting FBI evidence-collection agents into kill-and-capture missions.
"Kevin was always volunteering to do stuff,” a former FBI colleague, Bill Keefe, told Newsweek in 2017. "He believes in doing the right thing."