Trump FBI pick Christopher Wray expected to field questions on independence

President Trump’s nominee to head the FBI, Christopher Wray, will face the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning, when he’s expected to be grilled about Russian interference in the 2016 election and his ability to keep the FBI independent from the White House.

Wray’s nomination was received mostly positively, with lawmakers calling him a safe and qualified choice. But some members of Congress have expressed concern over whether Wray, a former assistant attorney general, can maintain independence from Trump in the wake of fired FBI Director James Comey’s testimony, during which Comey revealed that the president had asked him for his loyalty at a private dinner.

“Above all, he will need to show his commitment to protecting the bureau’s independence,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the New York Times.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he’s encouraged that Wray has “significant” experience in law enforcement “rather than a career in partisan politics.”

Wray met Tuesday afternoon with Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill.,  a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The two discussed issues including Russia’s involvement with the election, DOJ funding for Chicago and criminal justice reform, according to a statement sent from Durbin’s office to Yahoo News.

“Our nation needs a FBI Director who will be independent, thorough, and principled,” Durbin said in the statement. “Our exchange was frank and constructive. I told Mr. Wray that he would be hearing about these issues again at his hearing tomorrow.”

If confirmed, Wray would lead the FBI at a time when a Justice Department special counsel is probing whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. The special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, was appointed in the aftermath of Comey’s sudden firing. Comey later testified that he released personal memos — detailing Trump’s purported attempts to pressure him — hoping to trigger the appointment of a special counsel.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., expressed his concerns about Wray’s potential conflicts of interest.

Merkley wrote that Wray doesn’t “pass the test,” pointing to his history as a consistent Republican donor and the fact that the law firm where he practices as a litigation partner, King & Spalding, privately represents clients involved with the Russian oil industry.

Wray has taken on his fair share of difficult cases in the past: He played a key role in the Justice Department’s efforts to respond to 9/11 under the George W. Bush administration, and has represented Fortune 100 companies under investigation by the DOJ in his private practice.

Trump’s pick is also likely to face questions about his work on the U.S. response to 9/11. A 68-page questionnaire filled out by Wray for the Senate says counterterrorism was the “highest priority” of the criminal division of the Justice Department when he served as assistant attorney general from 2003 to 2005.

Christopher Wray, President Trump’s nominee for FBI director, before a meeting in Washington on June 29, 2017. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images)
Christopher Wray, President Trump’s nominee for FBI director, before a meeting in Washington on June 29, 2017. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images)

Wray graduated from Yale University in 1989, then graduated from its law school in 1992. After college, he joined King & Spalding and, later, the Justice Department, where he served in various roles from 2001 to 2005. While at the Justice Department, Wray also helped lead the department’s efforts to address several corporate fraud scandals, including the prosecution of energy giant Enron Corp.

Wray also has represented New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane-closure case and multiple Fortune 100 companies being investigated by the Department of Justice.

Additionally, new financial disclosures reveal that Wray earned $9.2 million from King & Spalding as part of his annual partnership at the firm.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said last month that he hopes to confirm Wray as FBI director before the August recess.

If Wray wins confirmation, he’d be faced with the task of steadying a bureau that abruptly lost Comey in the middle of his term.

The president’s announcement that he planned to nominate Wray came one day before Comey testified before the Senate about Russian meddling in the election. Trump formally nominated Wray three weeks after he announced the nod on Twitter.

Trump wrote that Wray is “a man of impeccable credentials.”

“I am honored and humbled to be nominated,” Wray said in a Department of Justice statement. “From my earliest days working with agents as a line prosecutor to my time working with them at the Department of Justice in the aftermath of 9/11, I have been inspired by the men and women of the FBI — inspired by their professionalism, integrity, courage, and sacrifice for the public. If confirmed, it will be a privilege and honor to once again work with them.”

Wray’s testimony is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. ET Wednesday.

Updated, 7/12/17 at 8:07 a.m.: This piece has been updated to reflect the statement from Democratic Whip Dick Durbin’s, D-Ill., office. 


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