Christopher Wray vowed Wednesday to remain independent of any pressure if he’s confirmed to lead the FBI — pledging to adhere to the “Constitution and the rule of law” as head of the bureau, “no matter the test.”
“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 told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Full stop."
Senators are expected to press Wray on whether he will maintain his independence from President Donald Trump, as well as any conversations between him and the president about whether Trump asked for his loyalty. James Comey, who Wray would replace, has said the president asked for his loyalty, a request he rebuffed; a few months later, Trump fired Comey.
“I believe to my core that there is only one right way to do this job,” Wray said later. “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, without fear, without favoritism and certainly without regard to any partisan political influence."
He added, "Anybody who thinks I’d be pulling punches as the FBI director sure doesn’t know me very well.”
Democratic senators are also curious about Wray’s involvement in the counterterrorism policies of the George W. Bush administration, when he was a top official at the Justice Department.
In her opening remarks, Sen. Dianne Feinstein signaled she plans to ask Wray about his role in the controversial Bush-era anti-terror tactics and legal memos written by then DOJ-official John Yoo outlining the basis for using enhanced interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects.
Yoo had testified to Congress that his office wouldn’t have issued its opinions without the approval of senior DOJ leaders, including then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and Wray, who was serving as principal associate deputy attorney general.
“This raises the question of what exactly was Mr. Wray’s role in reviewing and approving these memos,” Feinstein said, noting she had discussed the issue in private with the FBI director nominee before his confirmation hearing. “I’d like Mr. Wray to clear this up this morning.”
Recalling Trump’s previous comments on interrogation techniques — he’d said in February 2016 that “torture works” — Feinstein said Wray’s recollection of his role in the Yoo memos mattered in the current national security environment.
“This is significant not only because of what it says about Mr. Wray’s views and independence at the time but we know that there are those who would bring back torture if they could and so how he will handle this as the FBI director is important,” Feinstein said.
Still, key senators from both parties on the Judiciary Committee say so far that they have found no major red flags so far in Wray, a veteran corporate lawyer who spent four years at the Department of Juistice, mostly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
“It’s a demanding job that requires a keen understanding of the law, sound management skills, calmness under significant pressure, and a very level head,” the committee’s chairman, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said in his opening remarks. “From what I’ve seen so far from meetings with Mr. Wray and from looking at his record, he appears to possess these qualifications.”
Grassley added: “In reviewing his record, I’ve seen Mr. Wray’s commitment to independence.”
Wray was announced as Trump’s pick on June 7, just one day before Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Trump, who fired Comey on May 8, cycled through several other potential candidates for the job before settling on Wray, including Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), former TSA administrator John Pistole and Andrew McCabe, the bureau’s current acting director.