Christopher Wray, President Trump's nominee to replace James Comey as FBI director, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee at his confirmation hearing on Wednesday. He performed so well that key Democratic members of the committee such as Senator Dianne Feinstein said they were impressed and were inclined to vote for his confirmation. Senator Al Franken, a chronic skeptic of anything coming from the Trump administration, said to the nominee, “I think you had a good hearing today, and I wish you luck.”
Christopher Wray is eminently qualified for the position of FBI director, based both on his experience as well as his temperament. He served previously as a deputy attorney general in charge of the criminal division during President George W. Bush's administration. Prior to that, his public service included a stint as assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, prosecuting individuals who committed a variety of crimes including bank robbery, gun trafficking, kidnapping and arson. Right after graduating from Yale Law School, he clerked for United States Court of Appeals Judge J. Michael Luttig, who described Mr. Wray as “balanced, thoughtful, deliberative” and “unflappable.”
Mr. Wray has a reputation for a calm demeanor. He avoids the limelight whenever possible. “Chris is a very gentle soul,” says Monique Roth, who served as his senior counsel at the Justice Department. “He’s not one of those grandstanders or ego-driven people. He’s very self-effacing and thoughtful.”
Indeed, Mr. Wray could be considered in one respect the antidote to Comey, who craved the spotlight. However, like Comey, he demonstrated his independence from political pressure while serving in the Bush Department of Justice. He joined Comey and Robert Mueller, who was then the FBI director and currently the special counsel overseeing the Russian investigation, in preparing to resign over a controversy involving a proposed domestic surveillance program.
Mr. Wray was asked repeatedly during his confirmation hearing whether, as FBI director, he would remain independent of the White House and partisan pressures. He assured the senators on several occasions that his loyalty would be only to the Constitution and the rule of law. He said that he was never asked to pledge his loyalty to the president and that he would not do so in any case. Mr. Wray said he would resign if asked by the president to do something he considered to be “illegal, unconstitutional or even morally repugnant” and could not talk the president out of taking that course of action.
"Nobody should mistake my low key demeanor for lack of resolve," Mr. Wray declared. “Anybody who thinks that I would be pulling punches as the FBI director sure doesn't know me very well.”
Mr. Wray offered his understanding of the FBI’s role, which is to do fact finding and accumulate evidence on which to base a recommendation whether to prosecute or not. Prosecutors, not the FBI, are responsible for the decision whether to prosecute. When asked whether former FBI Director Comey had acted responsibly in holding the press conference in which he held forth on his views of the Hillary Clinton e-mail imbroglio, Mr. Wray indicated what he would not do as FBI director. He said he would not hold a press conference disclosing derogatory investigatory information regarding an uncharged individual.
Not surprisingly, in today’s Russia hysteria environment, the Russian investigation took up a significant portion of the confirmation hearing. Mr. Wray said he had no reason to doubt the intelligence community's conclusion on Russian interference into last year' presidential election. He said he does not consider Special Counsel Mueller's probe into Russian interference and the possible role of Trump campaign officials to be a witch hunt. He also assured the senators that as FBI director he would provide all appropriate resources for the special counsel’s investigation.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tried to get Mr. Wray to comment on the recent revelations involving Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with someone he thought was connected with the Kremlin and could help in providing opposition research on Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The FBI director nominee did not take the bait. However, he did say that “Russia is a foreign nation that we have to deal with very warily.” He added, "Any threat or any effort to interfere in our election from any nation state or nonstate actor is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know.”
The FBI director will have much more on his plate than the Russian investigation, which Special Counsel Mueller is now spearheading. He will oversee around 35,000 employees and 50,000 investigations each year, most of which have nothing to do with the 2016 election. While there was a sprinkling of questions on more general issues within the FBI’s purview such as cybersecurity, surveillance, child protection and immigration, the committee members’ focus on Russia and the firing of James Comey at times seemed more like grandstanding than honest questioning. Nevertheless, Christopher Wray acquitted himself superbly. He deserves unanimous support from the committee and a strong bipartisan vote to confirm on the Senate floor as soon as possible.