- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Christopher Wray, President Trump’s pick to lead the FBI, promised senators Wednesday that he is outside the president’s sphere of influence and would resist any efforts to politicize the bureau as it helps investigate Trump aides’ involvement with Russia.

Pressed by senators still concerned about Mr. Trump’s firing of Director James B. Comey, Mr. Wray said the Russia probe is not a “witch hunt” and rejected the view the president has taken.

His pledge to withstand political pressure earned bipartisan praise among lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggesting that his confirmation will be easy.

“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 Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing. “My loyalty is to the Constitution and the rule of law.”

Mr. Comey’s firing loomed large over the hearing, as did the ongoing probe by Justice Department-appointed special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the presidential election and any possible collusion with members of the Trump campaign.

Senators pressed Mr. Wray about how he might handle any interactions with Trump administration officials that he deemed problematic — such as requests that he meet privately with Mr. Trump — and asked about his conversations thus far. Mr. Wray said he has not discussed the firing of Mr. Comey or the Russia investigation 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.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, questioned what Mr. Wray would do if the president asked him 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.

Later asked if he would meet privately with Mr. Trump if asked — a scenario that made Mr. Comey uncomfortable — Mr. Wray said it was “highly unlikely,” though he could envision scenarios related to national security in which it might be warranted.

He also voiced support for Mr. Mueller’s ongoing Russia probe and said he does not consider the investigation to be a “witch hunt.”

“I would consider an effort to tamper with Director Mueller’s investigation to be unacceptable and inappropriate and would need to be dealt with very sternly and appropriately indeed,” he said, promising to alert lawmakers if he detected any such effort.

The White House said Mr. Trump stands by his characterization of the Russia probe as a “witch hunt.”

“The president knows very specifically any action or inaction that he’s taken,” said principal deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

If there is any evidence of collusion in the election campaign, Mrs. Sanders said, “it would be between the DNC and the Ukrainian government.” She was referring to reports that Democrats sought dirt from foreign operatives on Mr. Trump.

Lawmakers seemed largely pleased with the nominee’s answers and experience.

Mr. Wray has served as a federal prosecutor, overseen the Justice Department’s sprawling criminal division and spent the past decade as a private lawyer focusing on corporate litigation at King & Spalding.

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

Mr. Wray faced a round of critical questions from Sen. Dianne Feinstein regarding his role in the development of the George W. Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies.

Mrs. Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the committee, wanted to know whether Mr. Wray reviewed or approved legal memos issued during that time that provided the basis for the use of certain enhanced 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 an illegal and ineffective interrogation tool.

Mrs. Feinstein emerged from the hearing backing Mr. Wray.

“I’ll be very candid with you. I’m going to vote yes,” she told reporters. “I see him as being a good FBI director. How good? The proof’s always in the pudding.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, cited Mr. Wray’s answers on the torture memos at the close of the hearing when she announced her intention to support his confirmation.

“Your answer earlier explaining your opposition to torture of any kind was very important,” Ms. Klobuchar said. “I don’t have to tell you, you are coming in at a time that is unprecedented.”

Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, said Mr. Wray has a record of independence.

“He’s prosecuted little guys and big guys, including a major-league baseball player, gun traffickers and RICO violators,” Mr. Grassley said. “He’s prosecuted folks on both sides of the political spectrum, including folks working on a Republican campaign.”

Mr. Wray later said, “Anybody who thinks I would be pulling any punches as the FBI director certainly doesn’t know me very well.”

Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

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