Wray Confirmed as FBI's Chief to Navigate Past Political Squalls

  • He’s vowed ‘impartial pursuit of justice. Period. Full Stop’
  • Wray to succeed James Comey, fired by Trump over Russia probe

Christopher Wray won Senate confirmation as FBI director, handing the former federal prosecutor the challenge of steadying a law enforcement agency buffeted by political pressures and public attacks from the president.

Wray, whose nomination was approved Tuesday on a bipartisan vote of 92-5, has vowed to defend the independence of the Federal Bureau of Investigation after President Donald Trump fired his predecessor, James Comey, over the criminal probe into whether the president or anyone close to him colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 elections.

"Mr. Wray possesses the skills, the character and the unwavering commitment to the impartial enforcement of the law that we need in the FBI director," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican. "I was impressed with his plain-spoken, candid answers. And I take him at his word when he says that his loyalty is to the Constitution and the rule of law."

The new director will be tested early on in getting his leadership team up and running and determining how to deliver on his confirmation-hearing pledge that “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.”

In recent days, Trump has publicly attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, as well as Andrew McCabe, who became acting FBI director after Comey was fired, and Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who’s the special counsel overseeing the Russia inquiry. Trump also suggested in an interview with the New York Times that the FBI director reports to the president, even though by law the director is technically under the Justice Department.

"I believe that the next FBI director’s independence, integrity and commitment to the rule of law, sadly, will likely be tested by this administration," said Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel. "I believe Mr. Wray is up to the task."

Grassley added, "Mr. Wray will step into this role at a crucial moment, not only in the history of the FBI but in the history of this nation.”

Handling Pressure

Wray, 50, has the experience to handle the pressure, including having served as head of the Justice Department’s criminal division from September 2003 until May 2005, said Larry Thompson, a former deputy attorney general who has worked with him.

"I can tell firsthand that I have not worked with or seen an individual with a keener sense of the Department’s mission and the need for the Department’s business to be conducted free from favor, influence or partisanship," Thompson said in a letter to senators last month supporting Wray’s nomination.

During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Wray disputed Trump’s description of the Russia investigation as a “witch hunt.” Wray called Mueller a “consummate straight shooter.”

Pressed on what he would do if Trump asked him to do something he viewed as unlawful, Wray responded, "First I would try and talk him out of it, and, if that failed, I would resign."

Read more: Unwinding twists and turns in the Trump-Russia probe

Wray will have a 10-year tenure as FBI director unless he’s fired or resigns. Comey said his firing came after Trump repeatedly asked for his loyalty and suggested the FBI drop an investigation into Michael Flynn, the president’s first national security adviser.

Comey was criticized by Republicans and Democrats at various points for his public comments during last year’s election campaign on the FBI’s investigation into Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

“I can’t imagine a situation where, as FBI director, I would be giving a press conference on an uncharged individual, much less talk in detail about it,” Wray said at his confirmation hearing in July.

More than 30 senior former Justice Department officials, from both Republican and Democratic administrations, wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee saying Wray has the qualities needed to do the job.

"Chris has the judgment, integrity, independence, experience and commitment to the rule of law to be an excellent FBI director," the letter states. Among those signing was Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general who Trump fired in January.

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