On Wednesday, President Donald Trump’s nominee for the position of Director FBI, Chris Wray, seemed to be providing constant reassurances to lawmakers that he would head the agency with independence from the White House.
Wray, 50, while talking to lawmakers, said that the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US elections which is being conducted by congressional committees as well as the FBI, is not a “witch hunt,” as President Trump described it earlier.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Wray told committee members that he would, as much as he can, avoid one-on-one meetings with President Trump. He also reassured the lawmakers that he would resign before doing anything unlawful.
“First, I would try to talk him out of it, and if that failed, then I would resign,” he said.
“Anybody who thinks I would be pulling punches as the FBI director sure doesn’t know me very well,” he said earlier.
A former senior figure in the Justice Department in former President George W. Bush’s administration, Wray is being seen as a quite uncontroversial pick to replace the recently dismissed James Comey.
However, Wray’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee has become quite a high priority matter because of the timing and controversies of Comey’s dismissal.
Following Comey’s dismissal, President Trump said that the bureau’s investigation into his campaign’s alleged ties with Moscow was on his mind when he fired Comey.
Comey then testified before the Congress in a public hearing, saying that Trump demanded political loyalty and constantly pressed him on the Russian investigation. The investigation has since been handed over to special counsel Robert Mueller.
“All of this raises important questions for the next FBI head and particularly for his independence,” said Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) ranking member. “The FBI director does not serve the president. He serves the Constitution and the American people.”
As for Wray, he continued to reinstate his beliefs and principles and vowed that his loyalty is and would remain to the American people and the Constitution.
“I think the relationship between any FBI director and any president needs to be a professional one, not a social one,” he added later. “And there certainly shouldn’t be any discussion between the FBI director and any president about how to conduct particular investigations or cases.”
He assured that any attempt to “tamper with” Mueller’s investigation would be “unacceptable and inappropriate.” He further said that he would, through appropriate channels, notify the committee if any such thing was to come to his knowledge.
“I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt,” he said.
Wray then went to tell lawmakers that he had not been asked by anyone in the administration to pledge any kind of allegiance of loyalty throughout his confirmation process. He reassured the lawmakers, saying, “And I sure as heck wouldn’t offer one.”
Indirectly criticizing former Director Comey’s move to publicly announce that there would be no charges in the Hillary Clinton email investigation, he said, “I can’t imagine a situation where I would be giving a press conference on an uncharged individual.”
Wray’s commitment to the DOJ’s principles and rules seems to have become an especially high-stakes affair following the bureau’s entanglement in political controversies since the 2016 presidential elections.
“I don’t think the FBI is a political body, not the rank-and-file members. But I worry about the perception that some Americans might have,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.).
What could be called the most interesting moment of Wray’s hearing before the committee, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (S.C.) questioned the president’s nominee on his take on the recently published emails between Trump Jr. and an intermediary for a Russian lawyer claiming to have damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
“You’re going to be the director of the FBI, pal,” Graham cut in. “So here’s what I want you to tell every politician: If you get a call from somebody suggesting that a foreign government wants to help you by disparaging your opponent, tell us all to call the FBI.”
“To the members of this committee, any threat or effort to interfere with our elections from any nation-state or any non-state actor is the kind of the thing the FBI would want to know,” Wray replied.
Apart from the controversial questions on the ongoing Russian investigation, Wray answered several questions related to the major challenges being faced by the bureau today.