President Trump’s choice to lead the FBI, Christopher Wray, is expected to face tough questioning from senators at his confirmation hearing on Wednesday. (Lawrence Jackson / Associated Press)
’s choice to replace fired FBI Director James B. Comey, Christopher Wray, goes before senators for his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, likely to face tough questions about his independence from the White House amid the roiling controversy over Trump associates’ dealings with Russia.
Wray was nominated by Trump last month to lead the agency currently investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and its possible coordination with the Trump campaign. The president fired Comey on May 9 after Comey resisted what he said was Trump’s request to back off on the Russia inquiry — and dodged what he described as the president’s pressure to declare his loyalty.
The firing led to the Justice Department’s appointment of a special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who continues to investigate the original allegations as well as whether the president was trying to obstruct justice with Comey’s firing.
Despite that controversial backdrop, Wray’s nomination has won some bipartisan praise and to date has not provoked opposition that would suggest his Senate confirmation is in peril.
Trump has continued to denounce the Russia investigation as a “witch hunt,” but the pressure facing his administration only got more intense this week after revelations about his son Donald Trump Jr. by the New York Times.
On Tuesday, the younger Trump released some of his emails from June 2016 — knowing the Times was about to publish them — that showed he met with a Russian lawyer said to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton that was part of a broader Kremlin attempt to help his father’s candidacy.
President Trump interviewed politicians and other lawyers before choosing Wray, 50, who has a deep background in the Justice Department, along with ties to both Comey and Mueller. From 2003 to 2005, Wray served as head of the department’s criminal division under President George W. Bush — a time when Mueller was FBI director and remaking the agency in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, and Comey was deputy attorney general.
In 2004, when Comey and Mueller confronted White House officials in a showdown over a secret surveillance program, Wray was one of the officials who sided with the two men and threatened to resign if the program was renewed without restrictions. Though that history probably recommends Wray to Democratic senators, some will also want to know whether, during his time in Bush’s Justice Department, he was involved in drafting or approving memos that critics say sanctioned torture of terrorism detainees.
Wray said he spent much of his tenure focused on counter-terrorism cases. He also supervised high-profile investigations into corporate wrongdoing, including the prosecution of executives of Enron Corp., the energy company that collapsed in 2001. While an assistant U.S. attorney in Georgia, Wray prosecuted cases of kidnapping, securities fraud, gun dealing and bank robbery.
In one 1999 case, involving prosecution of a sheriff for public corruption, he teamed with Sally Yates, whom Trump fired as acting attorney general in January after she refused to defend his executive order barring visitors and refugees from several Muslim-majority countries.
Wray now is a criminal defense lawyer in the Atlanta-based law firm of King & Spalding, where he earned a $9.2-million partner’s share last year, according to his financial disclosure. Among his more prominent clients was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who hired him after the Bridgegate scandal broke in 2015. If he is confirmed, Wray said he will recuse himself from any involvement in cases involving the firm’s clients.