Christopher Wray pledged “the impartial pursuit of justice” if confirmed as FBI director, as senators focused on his ability to pursue investigations independently against the backdrop of revelations about a meeting the president’s son held with a Russian lawyer during last year’s campaign.
“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. Period,” Wray said in prepared testimony Wednesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “My loyalty is to the Constitution and the rule of law. They have been my guideposts throughout my career, and I will continue to adhere to them no matter the test.”
The committee weighed President Donald Trump’s nomination of Wray to head the Federal Bureau of Investigation, after the president’s abrupt firing of James Comey in May. If confirmed, Wray will oversee FBI agents aiding special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of whether Trump or any of his associates colluded with Russia to meddle in last year’s U.S. election.
“It’s vitally important for the FBI Director to be independent,” Republican committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa said of the former federal prosecutor in opening remarks. “He’s prosecuted folks on both sides of the political spectrum, including folks working on a Republican campaign.”
Wray’s independence is an issue because Comey testified before Congress that Trump repeatedly asked for his loyalty and suggested the FBI drop an investigation into Michael Flynn, the president’s first national security adviser. Flynn was forced out of his job after less than a month for misleading White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, about his discussions with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. after the 2016 election.
The hearing takes place as Washington digests the news that Trump’s son, Donald Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, met before the election with a woman they had been told was a Russian government lawyer who would provide damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
The revelations, which followed Donald Jr.’s decision to publish emails related to the meeting following inquiries and reports about it in the New York Times, conflicted with previous administration statements that campaign officials didn’t meet with Russian officials and raised fresh questions about whether any Trump associates colluded with Moscow.
Wray, 50, has a history of taking on politically tough assignments. A former Justice Department official who helped the U.S. respond to the Sept. 11 attacks, Wray represented Credit Suisse Group AG before its main unit pleaded guilty in 2014 and paid $2.6 billion for helping thousands of Americans evade taxes. He also represented New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the so-called Bridgegate investigation of politically motivated traffic delays in 2013.
The Yale Law School graduate is likely to lean heavily on his previous experience when he was confirmed to head the Justice Department’s criminal division, where he served from September 2003 until May 2005. He also helped lead the Justice Department’s efforts to address a wave of corporate fraud scandals, overseeing the prosecutions of Enron Corp. and HealthSouth Corp., among other major investigations.
But Wray’s tenure at the Justice Department could also be among the most contentious aspects of his confirmation process. Senators are likely to ask about what role he played in controversial counterterrorism programs put in place by President George W. Bush’s administration after the Sept. 11 attacks, including waterboarding.