Christopher Wray, President Trump’s pick to replace James Comey as director of the FBI, is little known outside Washington but widely respected in the law enforcement and criminal justice communities.
Wray is “a man of impeccable credentials,” the president wrote, promising, “Details to follow.”
Trump’s new pick, who has been in private practice for the past 12 years, is currently a litigation partner at firm King and Spalding, where he represented New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in the 2015 George Washington Bridge lane closure, or Bridgegate, case as well as several Fortune 100 companies under investigation by the Department of Justice.
Wray joined the Justice Department under former President George W. Bush in 2001 and played a critical role in the department’s counterterrorism efforts after the 9/11 attacks. According to an ACLU database, Wray’s name appears in several redacted documents regarding decisions about torture. He ran the criminal division as assistant attorney general from 2003 to 2005. There he oversaw major corporate fraud investigations, including the government’s inquiry into energy giant Enron Corp.
Wray was “very fair” in the DOJ’s investigation into Enron, Norm Eisen, ethics counsel in the Obama administration, said Wednesday morning, calling Wray a “good choice.”
Wray was tapped by Trump following a weeks-long search for the next FBI director after the president fired former Director James Comey early last month. The early names floated, in addition to acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, were mostly politicians, including Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, former Sen. Joseph Lieberman and former Republican Rep. Mike Rogers (not the Mike Rogers who runs the National Security Agency), a former FBI agent and the FBI Agents Association’s pick for director. But a law enforcement professional was viewed as a safer choice for getting through the Senate, where Democrats and at least some Republicans were considered likely to oppose a nominee with a partisan background. Trump interviewed Wray on May 31, press secretary Sean Spicer said in a briefing last week.
Trump’s announcement comes a day before Comey’s anticipated Thursday morning testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee about his firing and conversations with the president about the Russia probe.
The announcement is “clearly … an effort to distract from our Senate hearings today and tomorrow,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said.
Harvard Law professor Jack Goldsmith, who worked with Wray at the DOJ, called Wray “smart, serious and professional” in a statement, though he pointed out that Wray lacks the experience of his two predecessors.
“Wray is a good choice, a much better choice than any name I previously saw floated, and a much better choice than I expected Trump to make,” Goldsmith wrote. “I think Wray is qualified to be Director of the FBI.”
A former DOJ official who worked with Wray told Yahoo News that he’s a “safe choice.”
The official said that Wray is “well-respected, smart and has integrity,” but expressed concerns about Wray’s lack of management experience as he faces the task of helming an agency that is extremely difficult to run.
“I suspect he will not dominate the institution. If people think he’s going to control the FBI, I suspect they’re going to be disappointed,” the official said.
As assistant attorney general, Wray had been prepared to resign alongside top Bush administration officials in protest of the Bush administration’s attempts to reinstate an illegal surveillance program, according to a Washingtonian report.
Those officials included Comey, who was acting attorney general, and then-FBI Director Robert Mueller (who will head the FBI inquiry into ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials as a special counsel).
“Look, I don’t know what’s going on, but before you guys all pull the ripcords, please give me a heads-up so I can jump with you,” Wray said to Comey in 2004.
At the beginning of Wray’s career, he worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Georgia in 1997, and then rose to become an associate deputy attorney general after he joined the DOJ in 2001.
The nominee has donated to Republican presidential candidates, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012, though he did not contribute to the 2016 GOP campaign, according to the New York Times. Wray signed a March 2015 letter endorsing the nomination of Sally Yates as deputy attorney general. Yates was fired by Trump after she fought the president’s executive order on immigration.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recently told Trump he’s willing to resign, wrote in a statement Wednesday morning that the president wanted an FBI director “who has integrity, who understands and is committed to the rule of law.”
“Wray … possess[es] all gifts necessary to be a great Director of the FBI,” Sessions wrote.
The FBI Agents Association said Wednesday that its executive board looks forward to meeting Wray to gain insight into his views on the agency, agents and national security.
The president’s choice is a “safe, mainstream pick from a president who at one point was considering politicians for a job that has historically been kept outside of politics,” the New York Times wrote.
Wray earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale University in 1989 and a law degree from Yale in 1992.
Once officially nominated, Wray would face a Senate hearing to be confirmed as FBI director.
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