Five takeaways from Chris Wray's confirmation hearing

President Trump's pick to be FBI director, Chris Wray, hit Capitol Hill on Wednesday to make the case for why he should lead the country's premier law enforcement agency amid questions about its independence under Trump.

At his confirmation hearing, senators were keenly focused on how Wray, known as a low-key and hardworking leader, would handle a president who has not always kept the traditional distance between the White House and law enforcement community.

Here are five takeaways from the four-and-a-half hour long hearing: 

1. Trump did not ask him for a loyalty pledge

James Comey, the FBI director Trump abruptly fired on May 9, has testified that the president asked him for a pledge of personal loyalty after he took office, which he refused. Trump has denied this.

Wray said a loyalty pledge was not part of his nomination process. "No one asked me for any kind of loyalty oath during any part of this process," Wray said, adding that he would not provide one if asked. "My loyalty is to the constitution and the rule of law, full stop." 

2. He pledged to push back against any political interference

Trump's previous FBI director, James Comey, has testified that the president pressed him to drop parts of the investigation he was running into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Comey kept notes of his conversations with Trump, including one in which the president allegedly pressed his then-FBI director to end the inquiry into short-time National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Wray won't be overseeing the Russia probe, which is now led by special counsel Robert Mueller. Still, he said that if he was confronted with any kind of request to dump a criminal investigation, he would attempt to persuade the person otherwise. "If that failed, I would resign,'' he said. "I believe to my core that there is only one right way to do this job and that is strict independence – without fear without favoritism and certainly without regard to any partisan influence.'' 

3. He does not consider the Russia investigation a witch hunt

Trump has consistently denounced the special counsel investigation as biased, partisan, and a witch hunt. As recently as Wednesday morning, right before Wray's testimony, Trump called the investigation into possible collusion between Trump associates and Russia the "greatest witch hunt in political history."

Wray disagreed. "I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt,'' he said.

4. He has a relationship with Comey, but disagrees with him on some things

If confirmed, Wray would walk into agency that has been buffeted by unrelenting controversy since last year, starting with Comey's decision not to recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server and then to suddenly re-open the inquiry just 11 days before the 2016 election. The case was closed again without charges just days before Election Day, but Clinton has blamed the former FBI director for tilting the vote to Trump.

Wray expressed his continuing admiration for the previous FBI director, describing him as a "terrific lawyer'' and "a great public servant.'' He did, however, express disagreement with Comey's handling of the Clinton email inquiry.

"I can't imagine that has an FBI director I would be giving a press conference on an uncharged individual,'' Wray said, referring to Comey's public announcement last year not to recommend criminal charges against Clinton. "I am my own man,'' Wray said.

5. He knows what he's getting into

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., appeared to warn Wray of difficulty he likely would face in navigating the current, tense political environment. "Do you understand that you are stepping into the role of the director of the FBI at one of the most contentious times in American politics?'' Graham asked.

"This is not a job for the faint of heart,'' Wray responded. "I can assure the committee that I am not faint of heart.''

 

© 2017 USA TODAY


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