- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2017

FBI director nominee Chris Wray stressed that he would withstand political pressure and lead an independent bureau, noting that he learned a great deal about “playing it straight and following the facts” from FBI agents he worked alongside as a line prosecutor early in his career.

“If I am given the honor of leading this agency, I will never allow the FBI’s work to be driven by anything other than the facts, the law, and the impartial pursuit of justice. Period. Full stop,” Mr. Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee during Wednesday’s confirmation hearing. “My loyalty is to the Constitution and the rule of law.”

Senators pressed Mr. Wray during Wednesday’s confirmation hearing about his interactions with Trump administration officials, to which he responded that he has offered no “loyalty oath” and has not discussed the firing of his would-be predecessor James Comey with anyone at the White House.

“No one asked me for any kind of loyalty oath at any point during this process and I sure as heck didn’t offer one,” the former federal prosecutor said.

Mr. Wray was also asked about a host of hypothetical questions, including scenarios Mr. Comey encountered, including how he would handle a request to meet privately with President Trump in the Oval Office.

Mr. Comey has recounted several instances in which Mr. Trump sought to meet with or speak with him privately, situations that he said were inappropriate for an FBI director.

Mr. Wray said if he was asked to meet privately with the president, he would first check with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about the appropriateness of such a request.

“I think it would be highly unlikely,” Mr. Wray said of whether such a meeting would happen, but added that he could envision national security-related scenarios in which it might be warranted.

Lawmakers also asked the FBI director nominee how he would handle any possible interference in Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Mr. Wray said he doesn’t consider Mr. Mueller’s probe to be a “witch hunt,” a term Mr. Trump has used to describe aspects of the Russia probe.

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

Lawmakers seemed largely pleased with Mr. Wray background and answers.

“From my point of view you are the right guy at the right time,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat, questioned what Mr. Wray would do if asked by the president to do something illegal or unethical.

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

At the outset of Wednesday’s hearing, the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Mr. Wray has a track record demonstrating the kind of independence needed to serve as the nation’s top cop.

“In reviewing his record, I’ve seen Mr. Wray’s commitment to independence,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, Iowa Republican. “He’s prosecuted “little guys” and “big guys,” including a major league baseball player, gun-traffickers, and RICO violators. He’s prosecuted folks on both sides of the political spectrum, including folks working on a Republican campaign.”

The degree to which Mr. Wray can lead the FBI independently from political influence, particularly from President Trump, was a theme throughout Wednesday’s nomination hearing.

Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey amid an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possibly collusion with members of the Trump campaign. Mr. Trump initially said he lost confidence in Mr. Comey but later said the firing relieved great pressure he had faced because of Russia. The firing is reportedly among the matters the special counsel is investigating.

Mr. Wray, a private attorney who last worked for the Justice Department in 2005, was also asked about his role in the development of George W. Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein wanted to know whether Mr. Wray reviewed or approved controversial legal memos that provided the basis for the use of certain extreme interrogation techniques.

“I have no recollection of ever reviewing, much less providing input or comments or blessing, approval,” Mr. Wray said, adding that he felt torture was both illegal and ineffective.

Mr. Wray joined the Justice Department in 1997 and worked as a a federal prosecutor in Georgia, where he worked under former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. In 2001, he took a job with the DOJ in Washington, serving as an associate deputy attorney general where he focused on handling the fallout from the 2001 terrorist attacks.

In that position, which required Senate confirmation, he worked closely with the FBI and supervised the Justice Department’s work on criminal cases and its efforts to combat terrorism. He last worked for the DOJ in 2005, when he served as assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division.

In a Senate questionnaire, Mr. Wray described handling counterterrorism and counterespionage cases as the biggest part of his workload at the Justice Department from 2003 to 2005, saying he worked closely with the FBI and U.S. attorneys across the country. He also counted the case against 9/11 terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, terrorist financing investigations and prosecutions against Colombian narco-terrorist groups such as FARC as among the most significant investigations he participated in during that time.

His experience in the DOJ earned him high marks from both law enforcement groups and former colleagues.

A coalition of 100 former U.S. Attorneys, including former Attorney General Eric Holder, submitted a letter supporting his nomination and referring to him as an “effective leader with unassailable integrity, judgment and courage.”

“Chris has a proven track record of following facts and law independent of favor or influence,” the U.S. Attorneys wrote. “His legal credentials, law enforcement and national security background — as well as his success in managing and overseeing large complex organizations, investigations and crises — make him an exceptional candidate to lead the FBI.”

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