Trump Nominee: I Won’t Be ‘Pulling Punches as FBI Director’

Christopher Wray wins over Democratic senators at hearing, signals stark shift from Comey practices

Christopher Wray, President Donald Trump’s nominee to serve as FBI director, rejected several controversial practices of former FBI Director James Comey during a Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday. Wray even earned a show of Democratic support — an exceptionally rare feat for a Trump nominee.

Wray, the former assistant attorney general heading the Justice Department’s criminal division, criticized Comey’s behavior surrounding the investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while leading the State Department. Comey held an unprecedented press conference in July 2016 in which he said that “although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case” against Clinton.

When Trump fired Comey in early May, he — along with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — cited concerns about Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation and his extraordinary press conference.

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“I can tell you that in my experience as a prosecutor and as head of the criminal division, I understand there to be department policies that govern public comments about uncharged individuals,” Wray said in response to a line of questioning from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) at the hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “And I think those policies are there for a reason, and I would follow those policies.”

“I can’t imagine a situation where as FBI director I would be giving a press conference on an uncharged individual, much less talking in detail about it,” Wray continued.

Comey had also taken flak for agreeing to Trump’s requests to speak privately with him after taking office. According to memos Comey leaked to the press describing his private conversations with Trump, the president told Comey, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting” the FBI’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn “go.”

During the course of his hearing, Wray noted that he would have approached the entire situation differently than Comey.

“If you are asked in some kind of setting by the president to stop an investigation of somebody, aside from saying no, would you report that to us?” Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked Wray.

“Well, I would report it to the deputy attorney general, assuming he wasn’t already sitting there with me hearing it, and we would have a discussion about what we lawfully and appropriately can share with whom,” Wray responded. “But I would want to make sure that all the right people knew.”

Although Wray shied away from committing never to be alone with Trump under any circumstances, when Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked Wray what he would do, Wray replied, “I think it would depend on the circumstances, senator,” adding that he might do so if the conversation pertained to a “national security matter” requiring a one-on-one meeting.

Wray, who Trump called “a man of impeccable credentials” in his nomination, repeatedly assured the senators that he would do his utmost to protect his independence as head of the FBI and the untainted quality of his investigations.

Graham pointedly asked Wray during the hearing whether he believed that special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Trump’s officials and any Russians constituted a “witch hunt,” which Trump has called it repeatedly, including on the day of the hearing.

“My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!” Trump tweeted prior to the hearing.

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The president was referring to the interview of his son, Donald Trump Jr., on Fox News’ “Hannity” on Tuesday, in which he discussed his recently reported meeting with a Russian lawyer during the height of his father’s presidential campaign. The Russian lawyer reportedly claimed to have some dirt on Clinton, which Trump Jr. said he thought would be akin to “opposition research.” According to subsequent statements from Trump Jr., the lawyer provided nothing consequential and there was never any follow-up.

“Do you believe that in light of the Don Jr. email and other allegations that this whole thing about Trump campaign and Russia is a witch hunt? Is that a fair description of what we’re all dealing with in America?” Graham asked Wray.

“I do not consider [former] Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt,” Wray replied.

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Wray stressed his political independence, saying during his opening statement, “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,” adding he would serve “without fear, favoritism, and certainly without regard to political partisan influence.”

“Anyone who thinks I would be pulling punches as FBI director sure doesn’t know me very well,” Wray added.

To satisfy Democratic senators’ lines of questioning, Trump’s FBI director nominee stressed that he “would not tolerate any inappropriate influence on special counsel Mueller’s investigation to the extent that I am supporting it. At the end of the day, it is his investigation.” (go to page 2 to continue reading)[lz_pagination]

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PoliZette writer Kathryn Blackhurst can be reached at [email protected].