Donald Trump Jr.’s emails and the former FBI director’s firing are among the subjects expected to generate headlines at Wednesday’s confirmation hearing for Chris Wray, the president’s pick to succeed James Comey in leading the bureau.
Wray, a former senior Justice Department official, is seen as a serious and relatively uncontroversial choice to head the FBI. He was confirmed unanimously by voice vote to lead the Justice Department’s Criminal Division in 2003.
Members of both parties offered praise for the 50-year-old, who will be introduced by former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.).
Sen. Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsDems punch back over GOP holdup of Biden SBA nominee Biden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict Senate Democrats to Garland: 'It's time to end the federal death penalty' MORE (D-Del.) called him a “serious and experienced attorney.”
“I’m encouraged that President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE has nominated someone with significant federal law enforcement experience,” said Coons, who’s on the Judiciary Committee.
Nevertheless, the emails from Trump’s eldest son, which he released on Tuesday, have supercharged outside interest in the appearance. The messages suggest Trump Jr. arranged a meeting with a Russian lawyer after he was told that a source would have compromising information on Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHeller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 MORE.
Trump fired Comey this spring over frustration with the former FBI director’s work on the probe into Russia’s involvement in last year’s election and possible collusion between Moscow and Trump’s campaign. Intelligence officials believe Russia meddled in the election as part of an effort to help Trump’s campaign and hurt Clinton.
The focus from Democrats and probably some Republicans on Wednesday will be on Wray’s stance on the need for the bureau to operate independently from the White House.
Comey testified after his firing that the president had requested his loyalty and badgered him on the bureau’s investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia.
Former colleagues describe Wray as an even-keeled, highly principled public servant who will have no problem threading the needle of executing the bureau’s apolitical mission while working for a president who values loyalty above all else.
Although he is quieter and far less likely to seek the spotlight than his predecessor, former colleagues say, Wray nevertheless has a deep history with both Comey and the man now leading the federal investigation, special counsel Robert Mueller.
“It’s an odd selection by Trump because they’re all three bedfellows from the [George W. Bush] administration,” said Bill Mateja, a former prosecutor who was hired by Wray and worked under him for a time.
Wray was at the Justice Department in 2004 when then-Deputy Attorney General Comey and then-FBI Director Mueller threatened to resign over attempts by the White House to reauthorize a domestic surveillance program.
Wray, who was then the assistant attorney general in charge of the Criminal Division, stopped Comey in the hallway at the Justice Department as letters of resignation were being quietly drafted.
“Look, I don’t know what’s going on, but before you guys all pull the rip cords, please give me a heads-up so I can jump with you,” Wray said, according to the 2011 book “The Threat Matrix.”
Democrats are also expected to touch on Wray’s role in the Bush administration’s controversial terrorist detention and interrogation program.
For the past 10 years, Wray has worked in private practice at King & Spalding, in Atlanta, where he represented New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) in the “Bridgegate” investigation over whether entrance ramps to the George Washington Bridge were closed for political reasons.
According to ethics filings released Monday, he provided legal services to a number of large corporations and other high-profile clients, like Johnson & Johnson, Chevron and Wells Fargo, for which he has earned $9.2 million since January 2016. If confirmed, he will have to step aside for a year from any matters involving any of those clients.
Wray will be tasked with restoring trust and morale in an FBI badly wounded by Trump’s summary dismissal of Comey. Former and current officials say he enjoyed broad support in the J. Edgar Hoover Building — even among those who disagreed with his decisions in the Clinton email case — and his firing came as a gut-punch to many agents.
“The rank-and-file FBI agents will come to hold him in very high regard,” said John Wood, a former U.S. attorney who also worked with Wray. “This will be good for morale at the bureau over the long run.”