Donald Trump has picked former a Department of Justice official, Christopher Wray, as the new Director of the FBI. Interestingly, this announcement occurred on one day before fired ex-FBI Director James Comey is due to give evidence in front of a Senate committee.
In a public statement released in advance of today’s hearing, Comey describes how Trump asked him to drop an investigation into Michael Flynn’s ties with Russia during the last year’s presidential election.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
Flynn resigned as National Security Advisor to Trump in February, when information surfaced he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature and content of communications with the Russian ambassador to the US.
Comey also describes how the president wanted him to pledge an on oath of personal loyalty. He refused on both points, and was shortly thereafter fired from his job as head of the FBI
Under US law, Comey’s incendiary testimony amounts to evidence that Trump attempted to commit obstruction of justice. This is a very serious crime, and almost certainly provides grounds for impeachment proceedings to be made against Trump.
With Republicans controlling a vice-like grip on all reigns of US government, however, political will for such a move is muted.
So can it be coincidence that Trump has chosen exactly this day to announce Comey’s successor?
Who is Christopher Wray?
I will be nominating Christopher A. Wray, a man of impeccable credentials, to be the new Director of the FBI. Details to follow.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 7, 2017
Christopher Wray attended undergraduate and law school at Yale University, before beginning a career in public service in 1992 as a clerk for Judge J. Michael Luttig on the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
He left a year later to pursue a career in private practice, but returned to public service in 1997, working for US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia. From there he worked his way up through up main division of the Justice Department as an associate deputy attorney general before becoming the principal associate deputy attorney general.
In 2003, President George W. Bush nominated Wray as assistant attorney general in charge of the Criminal Division of the Justice Department. He held this position until 2005, when he went back to private practice and specialized in white-collar investigations.
In 2004 Wray was one of a number of senior officials, which also included James Comey and then-FBI Director Robert Mueller, who threatened to resign when the government attempted to re-authorize an NSA surveillance program that had been ruled illegal.
Wray defended New Jersey Governor Chris Christie during the 2013 Bridgegate scandal, in which two of Christie’s former aides were convicted of plotting to close lanes of a bridge in order to punish a Democratic mayor who would not endorse the governor.
Wray was later found to be in possession of a “missing” phone which was never handed over, but which may have contained evidence relating to the trial.
Wray has been working as a litigation partner at King & Spalding. This is a legal firm that advises the Trump family real estate empire. Faiz Shakir, national political director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said,
“Christopher Wray’s firm’s legal work for the Trump family, his history of partisan activity, as well as his history of defending Trump’s transition director during a criminal scandal makes us question his ability to lead the F.B.I. with the independence, evenhanded judgment, and commitment to the rule of law that the agency deserves.”
Wray was also involved in developing legal justifications for the Bush administration’s use of torture in the wake of 9/11.
Throughout his career, Wray has been a staunch defender of Fortune 100 companies. He has also donated some $35,000 to Republican candidates since 2008.
A “safe” choice for FBI Directer
Overall, however, Wray is considered to be, at least for Trump, a remarkably mainstream and sober choice for the position of FBI Director. Republicans have lined up to praise the decision, with House Speaker Paul Ryan saying that he is “the perfect kind of person” for the job.
The FBI also seem happy with the choice. According to the New York Times:
“A former assistant attorney general under President George W. Bush, Mr. Wray is likely to assuage the fears of F.B.I. agents who worried that Mr. Trump would try to weaken or politicize the agency.
Those who know Mr. Wray say his willingness to quit the Justice Department more than a decade ago as a matter of principle showed he would brush back attempts at political interference and try to protect the bureau’s independence.”
It therefore seems that Trump has employed uncharacteristic tact and discretion in his choice of Christopher Wray is new Director of the FBI. On the eve of what is likely to be a very tumultuous day for Trump, this is significant. It demonstrates that he is clearly aware of the tenuousness of his current possession.
As for Wray, himself, only time will tell. That he stood up to Bush administration over NSA spying is encouraging, but lifelong ties to big money, the Republican party, and to Trump himself, add a strong note of caution.