Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion for po­ten­tial Comey re­place­ment ap­pears likely

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Joseph Tan­fani

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.

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