FBI NOMINEE VOWS TO BE INDEPENDENT
Senate confirmation for potential Comey replacement appears likely
Christopher A. Wray, President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the FBI, pledged to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to protect the bureau from political interference, saying he wouldn’t bow to pressure from anyone to quash the Russia probe — even the president.»
WASHINGTON» President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the FBI during the highly sensitive investigation into Russia’s efforts to sway the 2016 election pledged Wednesday to protect the bureau from political interference, saying he wouldn’t bow to pressure from anyone to quash the probe — even the president.
In testimony that repeatedly put him at odds with the president’s often angry assaults on the Russia investigation, Christopher Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he believes Robert Mueller, the special counsel now running the probe, is the “ultimate straight shooter.”
“I would consider an effort to tamper with Director Mueller’s investigation to be unacceptable and inappropriate,” he said.
Responding to questions from Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the committee’s top Democrat, Wray said he would blow the whistle on such an attempt, if he could do so without compromising the case, saying it “would need to be dealt with very sternly indeed.”
“You can’t do a job like this without being prepared to either quit or be fired, at a moment’s notice, if you’re asked to do something or confronted with something that is either illegal, unconstitutional or even morally repugnant. And you have to be able to stand firm to your principles,” he said at another point.
“There is not a person on this planet whose lobbying or influence could cause me to drop a meritorious and properly predicated investigation.”
The fate of the Russia probe and Wray’s willingness to withstand political pressure were at the center of the hearing. His answers pleased Republicans and Democrats, many of whom thanked Wray for being willing to step into the job now, when some of Trump’s closest associates face a widening criminal investigation.
Throughout the hearing, senators seemed less interested in cross-examining
Wray than in sending warnings to Trump to avoid interfering with Mueller or the Russia probe.
“You’re going to be director of the FBI, pal,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said at one point, pointing to this week’s disclosures that Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. met last summer with a Russian lawyer after being told she had damaging information about Hillary Clinton that was part of a broader Kremlin attempt to help his father’s candidacy.
“Here’s what I want you to tell every politician,” Graham said: “If you get a call from somebody saying a foreign government wants to help you by disparaging your opponent — tell us all to call the FBI.”
Wray agreed that was “the kind of thing the FBI would want to know.”
If confirmed by the Senate, which seemed a virtual certainty after the hearing, Wray would replace James B. Comey, fired by Trump on May 9 after Comey resisted what he said was Trump’s request to back off on the Russia inquiry — and dodged what he described as the president’s pressure to declare his loyalty.
The firing led to the Justice Department’s appointment of Mueller, himself a former FBI director, as a special counsel. He heads a team of prosecutors who are directing the investigation into Russia’s role in the election, any possible collusion by people close to Trump’s campaign as well as whether the president was trying to obstruct justice with Comey’s firing.
The pressure facing Trump’s administration only intensified this week after revelations first published by The New York Times about Trump Jr.
Wray carefully avoided criticizing the president’s son, saying he hadn’t had time to read the emails or even news stories about them. But under pointed questioning by Graham, Wray said he had a different opinion about the investigation than the president, who repeatedly has called the probe the “single greatest witch hunt in American political history.”
“I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt,” Wray said.
What about Trump’s description of Comey as a “nut job?” asked Sen. Al Franken, D- Minn.
“That hasn’t been my experience with him,” said Wray, who has worked closely with Comey in the past and made clear his admiration for him.
And he said that he had “no reason whatsoever to doubt the assessment of the intelligence community” that Russia had attempted to interfere with the 2016 election to help elect Trump.
Wray testified that no one in the administration has asked him for a loyalty oath or pressured him about the Russia case. In two conversations with Trump and others in the White House, the topic of Russia never came up, Wray said.
“No one has asked me for any kind of loyalty oath at any point in this process, and I sure as heck did not offer one,” Wray said. “My loyalty is to the Constitution and the rule of law.”
Last year, Comey angered many Democrats and Justice Department officials when he held a news conference and declared that Clinton’s handling of emails as secretary of state was “extremely careless,” even though the FBI would not recommend that she be charged with any criminal offense.
Wray declined to criticize Comey directly, citing an inspector general investigation of how the then-director handled the Clinton case. But he said he doesn’t think the FBI director should be offering opinions on people who aren’t charged.
“I think those policies are there for a reason, and I would follow them,” he said, referring to Justice Department policies that limit what prosecutors and FBI officials say about criminal cases.