Christopher Wray, President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the FBI, told a Senate panel on Wednesday that he would never allow the bureau’s work to be driven by “by anything other than the law, the facts and the impartial pursuit of justice.”
He said: “My loyalty is to the Constitution and the rule of law.”
Wray, a low-key former senior Justice Department official, was nominated after Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey in May amid a bureau investigation into potential collusion between Trump associates and the Kremlin to interfere in last year’s presidential election.
His opening remarks underscored the concerns Senators have about his ability to be an independent leader, resistant to political pressures including from the White House, are expected to dominate his hearing Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee to become the FBI’s eighth director.
The issue takes on even more significance this week in the wake of revelations that Trump’s son, son-in-law and then-campaign manager last year willingly met with a Russian government lawyer who had offered incriminating information on Trump’s chief Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
“The FBI director doesn’t serve the president,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, ranking Democrat on the committee at the hearing’s opening. “He serves the Constitution, the law and the American people.”
Robert Mueller, who led the bureau before Comey, has been appointed as a special counsel leading the investigation into potential collusion, Russian meddling in the 2016 election and potential obstruction of justice by Trump in relation to the probe.
Wray’s backers say he has the required independence, and would never let anyone – including the president – force him to shut down an investigation for political reasons.
In Wray, 50, the president chose an accomplished lawyer with a classic establishment pedigree: Yale Law School, a clerkship for a respected and conservative appeals court judge, both white-shoe corporate law experience and a strong résumé as a former federal prosecutor who rose high within Justice’s ranks. However, Wray’s stint in President George W. Bush’s administration, in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks, could revive past debates about mistreatment of detainees, civil rights and prosecutorial independence.
Wray has been in private practice for more than a decade, representing big corporate clients such as Credit Suisse in a major tax-evasion case, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, in a probe of his administration’s decision to change traffic patterns on the George Washington Bridge, apparently to punish a political foe. Christie was never charged in that case.
He has won the endorsement of the FBI Agents Association and bipartisan support from 100 former U.S. attorneys.
“He’s a very smart, very careful lawyer,” said Larry Thompson, a former deputy attorney general in the Bush administration who brought Wray in as his deputy. “Chris does not make mistakes. And most importantly, for what people may be interested in for our new FBI director, he doesn’t seek the limelight.”
He said that Wray would never be pressured to change the course of an investigation. “You could knock me over with a feather” if he did that, Thompson said.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Ellen Nakashima, Karoun Demirjian