Wray: I’ve given no loyalty oath to Trump – Politico
Christopher Wray vowed Wednesday to remain independent of any pressure if he’s confirmed to lead the FBI â pledging to adhere to the âConstitution and the rule of lawâ as head of the bureau, âno matter the test.â
Wray also testified that he did not have any conversations with anyone in the White House about the firing of his predecessor, James Comey. And he pledged he would “absolutely” report any attempts to interfere with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, “assuming that I can do it legally and appropriately.”
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“I would consider an effort to tamper with Director Muellerâs investigation to be unacceptable and inappropriate and would need to be dealt with very sternly and appropriately indeed,â Wray told senators during his confirmation hearing to be FBI director.
Wray also addressed questions about whether President Donald Trump requested loyalty from him should he be named FBI chief, telling senators: “No one asked me for any kind of loyalty oath at any point during this process, and I sure as heck didnât offer one.”
Comey, whom Wray will replace if confirmed, has said the president asked for his loyalty, a request he rebuffed. A few months later, Trump fired Comey.
Wray told senators that if Trump requested him to do something unlawful, he would “try to talk [to] him about if it and if that failed, I would resign.”
âI believe to my core that there is only one right way to do this job,â Wray said. âAnd that is with strict independence by the book, playing it straight, faithful to the Constitution, faithful to our laws and faithful to the best practices of the institution, without fear, without favoritism and certainly without regard to any partisan political influence.”
He added, “Anybody who thinks Iâd be pulling punches as the FBI director sure doesnât know me very well.â
One early mention of the Trump-Russia investigation at Wednesdayâs hearing came as Wray disclosed that the No. 2 official at the Justice Department tried to entice him into taking the FBI job by noting that the inquiry was recently placed in the hands of Mueller, who also once served as FBI director.
Wray said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein suggested that handing the probe off to Mueller might take some stress off Wray if he took the FBI director post. Rosenstein said âthat, in effect, made for a better landscape for me taking on this position,â Wray said.
He also carefully distanced himself from the decision by Comey to publicly discuss the investigation into Hillary Clintonâs use of a private email server as secretary of state, noting that policies governing how to handle people who are not charged with a crime are âthere for a reason, and I would follow those policies.â
âI canât imagine a situation where as FBI director, I would be giving a press conference on an uncharged individual, much less talk to the Hill about it,â Wray said. Later, he added, “If you collapse prosecutor and investigator into one role, itâs just one step away from having judge, jury, and executioner all rolled into one…”
Also making a cameo at Wrayâs confirmation hearing: the Donald Trump Jr. email exchange detailing plans to set up a meeting in the heat of the 2016 general election campaign with a Kremlin-linked lawyer willing to share damaging material about Hillary Clinton.
Sen. Lindsey Graham read aloud from parts of the email messages that the presidentâs oldest son published Tuesday to Twitter. While insisting he had only been following the story from a distance as he was preparing for his hearing, Wray did respond that he expected Mueller would be examining the emails as part of the larger special counsel investigation.
The South Carolina Republican, who was quickly dispatched from the 2016 GOP primaries, nonetheless kept pressing Wray for his legal assessment on whether itâs legally questionable for presidential candidates to be talking with foreign nationals for opposition research.
âYouâre going to be the director of the FBI, pal,â Graham said. âSo hereâs what I want you to tell every politician: If you get a call from somebody suggesting that a foreign government wants to help you by disparaging your opponent, tell us all to call the FBI.â
Wray replied: âTo the members of this committee, any threat or effort to interfere with our elections from any nation-state or any non-state actor is the kind of the thing the FBI would want to know.â
Later in the exchange, Graham pressed Wray to weigh in on Trumpâs repeated public remarks disparaging the Mueller probe as a âwitch hunt.â
The FBI nomineeâs answer: âI do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt.â
Democratic senators also raised questions about Wrayâs involvement in the counterterrorism policies of the George W. Bush administration, when he was a top official at the Justice Department.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) also asked Wray about his role in the controversial Bush-era anti-terror tactics and legal memos written by then-DOJ official John Yoo outlining the basis for using enhanced interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects. Wray denied playing a role in approving the highly controversial memos.
âI can tell you that during my time as principal associate deputy attorney general, to my recollection, I never reviewed, much less provided comments on or input on and much less approved any memo from John Yoo on this topic,â Wray told Feinstein. âI understand that he thinks it’s possible he might have. I can only tell this committee that I have no recollection whatsoever of that. And it’s the kind of thing I think I would remember.â
Yoo, who had authored some of the memos, had previously testified that Wray may have received and commented on drafts of them at the time while working in the Bush Justice Department. Feinstein cited that testimony while questioning Wray on Wednesday, but the nominee said the Office of Legal Counsel, which issued the memos, was not part of his portfolio at the time.
âMy view is that torture is wrong,â Wray told the committee.
In advance of the hearing, key senators from both parties on the Judiciary Committee said that they have so far found no major red flags in Wray, a veteran corporate lawyer who spent four years at the Department of Juistice, mostly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
âItâs a demanding job that requires a keen understanding of the law, sound management skills, calmness under significant pressure, and a very level head,â the committeeâs chairman, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said in his opening remarks. âFrom what Iâve seen so far from meetings with Mr. Wray and from looking at his record, he appears to possess these qualifications.â
Grassley added: âIn reviewing his record, Iâve seen Mr. Wrayâs commitment to independence.â
Wray was announced as Trumpâs pick on June 7, just one day before Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Trump, who fired Comey on May 8, cycled through several other potential candidates for the job before settling on Wray, including Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), former TSA administrator John Pistole and Andrew McCabe, the bureauâs current acting director.
Heading into his hearing, Wray also faced questions about his experience handling major national security issues â central to the bureauâs mission of overseeing key counterterrorism issues in in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Pressed on his resume by Grassley â Wray had been head of the DOJ criminal division from 2003 to 2005 during the Bush administration â the FBI nominee replied that counterterrorism and counterespionage issues were direct part of his oversight responsibilities.
âWell over 50 percent of my time in those four years was focused on those very kinds of issues,â Wray said.
FBI directors are typically confirmed by wide bipartisan margins, and Wray’s confirmation does appear to be on a glide path despite all the questions surrounding loyalty, Comey, Russia and other contentious issues.
âYouâre going to be speaking pretty soon,â Graham said, âas the top cop in the land.â
Madeline Conway contributed to this report.