Christopher Wray, President Donald Trump's pick to head the Federal Bureau of Investigation after he fired James Comey from the position two months ago, pledged Wednesday to retain the agency's independence.
"If I am given the honor of leading this agency, I will never allow the FBI’s work to be driven by anything other than the facts, the law, and the impartial pursuit of justice, period," said Wray while speaking before the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of his confirmation hearings. "My loyalty is to the Constitution and the rule of law. They have been my guideposts throughout my career, and I will continue to adhere to them no matter the test."
Wray's comments come after Comey claimed that President Trump asked him to pledge his loyalty to Trump shortly before he was fired. Wray said Wednesday that he has not been asked to make such a pledge, nor would he if asked in the future. "If anything had been said that made me uncomfortable, I wouldn't be sitting here today," said Wray.
FBI directors are typically nominated for decade-long terms in order to provide a degree of separation from partisan politics. But the position of permanent FBI director has remained vacant since Trump abruptly fired Comey just over three years into his tenure. Comey's former Deputy, Andrew McCabe, has been filling in as the agency's acting director since the firing.
Following Comey's ouster, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Muller as special prosecutor to oversee an investigation into potential Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections, as well as into any potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Trump has called that investigation, as well as parallel inquiries from various congressional committees, a "witch hunt." Wray on Wednesday disputed that assessment. "I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt," said Wray.
Wray's testimony comes amid intensifying scrutiny of Russia's potential involvement in last year's elections. It also took place in the shadow of revelations that Donald Trump, Jr., the President's eldest son, met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer after he was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton, Trump's former electoral rival. Wray declined to comment on that meeting or the emails leading up to it, which became public Tuesday. But he did say that if he received emails similar to those received by Trump Jr., he would think it would be a good idea to call the FBI.
During Wednesday's hearing, Wray received accolades from both sides of the aisle. "It's vitally important for the FBI to remain independent," said Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. "In reviewing his record, I’ve seen Mr. Wray’s commitment to independence." Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar agreed. "I am going to be supporting you and I think a number of my colleagues are," she said at the end of the hearing.
But Wray, who previously served in the Justice Department under President George W. Bush, did not entirely escape Wednesday's hearings without a degree of grilling. Some Democrats questioned Wray about controversial memos providing President Bush with legal cover to authorize enhanced interrogation techniques to be used on terror suspects. Wray said that he disapproves of torture and did not know about the documents. However, John Yoo, the author of the memos, testified in 2008 that he may have given them to Wray.