Trump’s choice for FBI di­rec­tor grilled by panel

Wray says Mueller probe of Rus­sia ties not ‘witch hunt’

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

WASHINGTON — The lawyer Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump picked to lead the FBI de­clared Wed­nes­day that he does not be­lieve a spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­ble co­or­di­na­tion be­tween Rus­sia and the Trump elec­tion cam­paign is a “witch hunt.”

Christopher Wray, a for­mer high- rank­ing Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cial, also told sen­a­tors at his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing that he would never let pol­i­tics get in the way of the bu­reau’s mis­sion.

The FBI’s work will be driven only by “the facts, the law and the im­par­tial pur­suit of jus­tice,” he told the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. “My loy­alty is to the Con­sti­tu­tion and the rule of law. They have been my guide­posts through­out my ca­reer, and I will con­tinue to ad­here to them no mat­ter the test.”

Trump has crit­i­cized the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the FBI and spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller, call­ing it a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.”

Wray, se­lected for the FBI job last month af­ter Trump fired for­mer Di­rec­tor James Comey, made clear that he dis­agreed with the “witch hunt” char­ac­ter­i­za­tion.

“I do not con­sider Di­rec­tor Mueller to be on a witch hunt,” he said un­der ques­tion­ing from Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C.

Wray pledged to lead the

FBI “with­out fear, with­out fa­voritism, and cer­tainly with­out re­gard to any par­ti­san po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence,” adding that he would con­sider un­ac­cept­able any ef­forts to in­ter­fere with Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Af­ter Trump dis­missed Comey on May 9, the for­mer FBI di­rec­tor said the pres­i­dent had asked him to pledge his loy­alty dur­ing a din­ner at the White House months ear­lier. He also said Trump had en­cour­aged him to end an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn.

Wray said Trump made no de­mand for loy­alty from him. “And I sure as heck didn’t of­fer one,” he added.

Sen. Pa­trick Leahy, D-Vt., asked what Wray would do if the pres­i­dent re­quested that he take any steps that Wray be­lieved were il­le­gal.

“First, I would try to talk him out of it,” Wray said. “If that failed, I would re­sign.”

The back-and-forth with law­mak­ers fo­cused ex­ten­sively on the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, with Wray re­peat­edly voic­ing his re­spect for Mueller and Mueller’s work. He said he had no rea­son to doubt the as­sess­ment of in­tel­li­gence agen­cies that Rus­sia had in­ter­fered in the U.S. elec­tion through hack­ing.

Asked by Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, D-Calif., the panel’s top Democrat, to com­mit to alert­ing the com­mit­tee if he learned of any “machi­na­tions to tam­per with” the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, he said he would con­sult with the ap­pro­pri­ate of­fi­cials to en­sure he was not jeop­ar­diz­ing the in­quiry.

“But I would con­sider an ef­fort to tam­per with Di­rec­tor Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion un­ac­cept­able and in­ap­pro­pri­ate and would need to be dealt with very sternly in­deed,” he said.

And when asked about email re­leased a day ear­lier show­ing that the pres­i­dent’s son, Don­ald Trump Jr., was will­ing to take help from the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment dur­ing the cam­paign, he was em­phatic that any for­eign ef­forts to med­dle in an elec­tion should be re­ported to the FBI rather than be ac­cepted.

Wray was re­luc­tant to an­swer the ques­tion di­rectly. But when asked if Gra­ham should take such a meet­ing, he said: “Sen­a­tor, I think you’d want to con­sult with some good le­gal ad­vis­ers be­fore you do that … I think it would be wise to let the FBI know.”

TIES TO OTH­ERS

Wray, 50, has ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence in Washington, hav­ing served as head of the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s crim­i­nal divi­sion in the ad­min­is­tra­tion of for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, a po­si­tion in which he over­saw crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tions, and de­vel­oped the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s le­gal re­sponse to ter­ror­ism and na­tional se­cu­rity threats.

He served in the gov­ern­ment at a time when harsh in­ter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques were ap­proved by the Jus­tice Depart­ment for ter­ror sus­pects cap­tured over­seas, though Wray said he was never in­volved in sign­ing off on those meth­ods.

Wray said he con­sid­ered tor­ture to be wrong and in­ef­fec­tive. “The FBI is go­ing to play no part in the use of any tech­niques of that sort,” he said.

He also was ques­tioned about his re­la­tion­ships with Comey and Mueller. Trump al­lies have said Mueller’s close­ness to Comey shows he can’t lead an un­bi­ased in­ves­ti­ga­tion. But Trump nom­i­nated Wray de­spite his hav­ing worked with both men in the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

Wray was at the depart­ment in 2004 when Comey, tem­po­rar­ily serv­ing as act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral in place of the ail­ing John Ashcroft, was pre­pared to re­sign dur­ing a dis­pute with the White House over the reau­tho­riza­tion of a do­mes­tic sur­veil­lance pro­gram.

Wray said he was will­ing to re­sign along with Comey and other Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials — not be­cause he knew the sub­stance of the dis­pute but be­cause of the qual­ity of the peo­ple who were pre­pared to leave.

“Know­ing those peo­ple and hav­ing worked side by side with those peo­ple … there was no hes­i­ta­tion in my mind as to where I stood,” he said.

But Wray also sought to sep­a­rate him­self from Comey’s ac­tions over the past year, in­clud­ing the for­mer di­rec­tor’s an­nounce­ment last sum­mer that he would not rec­om­mend charges in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s han­dling of clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion.

Comey had ex­plained the move as an ef­fort in part to main­tain the FBI’s po­lit­i­cal neu­tral­ity but was widely crit­i­cized for plung­ing the bu­reau into the mid­dle of the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. For­mer pros­e­cu­tors crit­i­cized him for mak­ing pub­lic re­marks about Clin­ton’s be­hav­ior.

Pressed by Gra­ham on how he would have han­dled the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Wray said he would not have held a news con­fer­ence to an­nounce his de­ci­sion.

“In my ex­pe­ri­ence as a pros­e­cu­tor and as head of the crim­i­nal divi­sion, I un­der­stand there to be depart­ment poli­cies that gov­ern pub­lic com­ments about un­charged in­di­vid­u­als,” Wray said of the Jus­tice Depart­ment. “I think those poli­cies are there for a rea­son, and I would fol­low those poli­cies.”

Wray added, “I can’t imag­ine a sit­u­a­tion where I would be giv­ing a press con­fer­ence on an un­charged in­di­vid­ual, much less talk­ing in de­tail about it.”

WRAY’S PAST WORK

Over the past decade, Wray has had a lu­cra­tive ca­reer work­ing in pri­vate prac­tice at King & Spald­ing in At­lanta, where he’s de­fended large cor­po­ra­tions and fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions in crim­i­nal and civil cases.

He pro­vided le­gal ser­vices to John­son & John­son, Wells Fargo, Credit Suisse and fan­tasy sports providers DraftKings and FanDuel, among other big-name clients, ac­cord­ing to ethics doc­u­ments re­leased Mon­day. If con­firmed, he’ll have to step aside for a year from mat­ters in­volv­ing those clients and the law firm.

Wray also as­sisted New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie dur­ing the so-called Bridge­gate scan­dal.

Those who know him say that un­like the out­spo­ken Comey, Wray would be a more re­served leader. FBI agents say they see his con­fir­ma­tion as a chance to sta­bi­lize an in­sti­tu­tion shaken by the events of the past year.

But Wray warned those lis­ten­ing to the hear­ing not to un­der­es­ti­mate him be­cause they might view him as “bor­ing.”

“Any­body who does would be mak­ing a very grave mis­take,” he said. He added that he would re­sist any po­lit­i­cal pres­sure, if con­firmed to the po­si­tion.

“I fully un­der­stand that this is not a job for the faint of heart,” Wray said. “I can as­sure this com­mit­tee, I am not faint of heart.”

Af­ter more than two hours of ques­tion­ing, sen­a­tors from both par­ties said they were im­pressed with his an­swers. “I’m look­ing around and feel­ing that you had a good hear­ing to­day,” said Sen. Al Franken, D- Minn., who in past con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings has ag­gres­sively ques­tioned nom­i­nees. “Best of luck to you.”

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Sadie Gur­man and Eric Tucker of The Associated Press; by Ellen Nakashima and Karoun Demir­jian of The Washington Post; and by Adam Gold­man and Michael S. Sch­midt of The New York Times.

AP/PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS

FBI di­rec­tor nom­i­nee Christopher Wray said Wed­nes­day at his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump made no de­mand for loy­alty “and I sure as heck didn’t of­fer one.”

AP/PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS

Sen. Pa­trick Leahy (left), D-Vt., asked FBI di­rec­tor nom­i­nee Christopher Wray dur­ing his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing Wed­nes­day what he would do if asked by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to take steps Wray be­lieved to be il­le­gal. Wray said he would try to dis­suade the pres­i­dent, or fail­ing that, re­sign.

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