Christopher Wray, President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the FBI, sought to reassure senators during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday that he would be an independent government official who has taken no loyalty oath to the president.
The hearing was highly anticipated, given that Trump earlier this year fired former FBI Director James Comey as he was overseeing the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s attempts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election and whether the Trump campaign colluded in that effort. The firing prompted the appointment of a special counsel, Robert Mueller, to take on the investigation, and Mueller is now reportedly probing whether Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey.
Wray, a former assistant attorney general for the criminal division under George W. Bush, on Wednesday promised to alert the committee of any attempts to interfere in Mueller’s probe.
Here is POLITICO’s running list of key moments from Wray’s confirmation hearing Wednesday
Wray promises independence
Wray quickly addressed one of the core questions of the hearing — whether he would remain independent from Trump. In his opening remarks, Wray touted his experience as a prosecutor and said friends in the FBI had taught him “much about playing it straight and following the facts wherever they may lead.”
“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,” Wray said. “Full stop.”
“My loyalty is to the Constitution and the rule of law,” he continued. “They have been my guideposts throughout my career, and I will continue to adhere to them no matter the test.”
He reiterated that position under questioning from Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Judiciary Committee chairman.
“I believe to my core that there’s only one right way to do this job, and that is with strict independence, by the book, playing it straight, faithful to the Constitution, faithful to our laws and faithful to the best practices of the institution,” Wray said. “Without fear, without favoritism and certainly without regard to any partisan political influence.”
“And I would just say, anybody who thinks that I would be pulling punches as the FBI director sure doesn’t know me very well,” he added.
Wray says he didn’t discuss Comey with Trump or take a loyalty oath
In response to questions from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, Wray said he did not discuss Comey or the circumstances surrounding his dismissal “at all with anyone in the White House.”
“My only discussion on that topic at all was Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein making the observation to me at the time that I was first contacted about this position, by him, by Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, was that now special counsel Mueller had been appointed to deal with that issue and that that in effect made for a better landscape for me to consider taking on this position,” Wray said.
Responding to Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, Wray also denied taking a loyalty pledge from the president, which Comey alleged Trump demanded of him while he was FBI director.
“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,” Wray said.
Wray says he will alert committee of attempts to interfere in Mueller probe
Wray also told Feinstein that he would “absolutely” commit to informing the Judiciary Committee of any attempts to interfere with Mueller’s Russia probe if he can “do it legally and appropriately.”
“Any time talking to this committee, I would consult with the appropriate officials to make sure that I’m not jeopardizing the investigation or anything like that,” Wray said. “But I would consider an effort to tamper with Director Mueller’s investigation unacceptable and inappropriate and would need to be dealt with very sternly and appropriately indeed.”
Wray denounces torture and says he does not believe he approved Yoo memos
Wray denied playing a role in approving the highly controversial memos on torture issued by the George W. Bush administration.
“I can tell you that during my time as principal associate deputy attorney general, to my recollection, I never reviewed, much less provided comments on or input on and much less approved any memo from John Yoo on this topic,” Wray said. “I understand that he thinks it’s possible he might have. I can only tell this committee that I have no recollection whatsoever of that. And it’s the kind of thing I think I would remember.”
Yoo, who had authored some of the memos, had previously testified that Wray may have received and commented on drafts of them at the time while working in the Bush Justice Department. Feinstein cited that testimony while questioning Wray on Wednesday.
Wray said the Office of Legal Counsel, which issued the memos, was not part of his portfolio at the time.
He also denounced torture as wrong, illegal and ineffective and said he would expect to continue FBI policy against using torture.
Wray pressed on Trump Jr. emails
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) pressed Wray on whether the president’s oldest son acted appropriately when he agreed to meet with a Russian lawyer last year after he was told she was working on behalf of a Kremlin effort to elect his father.
At first, Wray declined to comment on what Graham initially described as “the email problems we’ve had with Donald Jr.” But under questioning, Wray eventually suggested that people in similar situations should call the FBI.
“If I got a call from somebody saying the Russian government wants to help Lindsey Graham get reelected, they’ve got dirt on Lindsey Graham’s opponent, should I take that meeting?” Graham asked.
“I would think you would want to consult with some good legal advisers before you did that,” Wray said.
“So the answer is, should I call the FBI?” Graham pushed.
“You are going to be the director of the FBI, pal,” Graham said, seeming a bit agitated. “So here is 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 thing the FBI would want to know,” Wray responded.
“Alright, I will take that we should call you,” Graham said. “And that’s a great answer.”
Wray also told Graham that he does not doubt the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia is to blame for the cyberattacks on Democratic Party officials during the presidential campaign last year. He described Russia as “a foreign nation that we have to deal with very wearily” that is an adversary of the U.S. “in some situations.”