Lawmakers press FBI pick on Russian meddling, Trump loyalty

Christopher Wray
Nominee for FBI director Christopher Wray takes an oath before beginning testimony Wednesday for his confirmation hearing. Photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger
WASHINGTON — As a new wave of reports has reignited controversy concerning Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, a legislative panel met Wednesday with the man poised to become the new head of the FBI.

Senators pressed Christopher Wray, President Donald Trump’s nominee, for almost five hours on his relationship with the White House, his position on torture, the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and more.

The hearing came two months after Trump abruptly fired previous FBI chief James Comey. This week, the White House was embroiled in controversy again over reports that the president’s son met with a Russian operative to collect information damaging to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign.

Despite the political turmoil surrounding the FBI leadership change and Russian meddling probe, inside the committee room, lawmakers across the political spectrum were cordial.

Every seat in the high-ceilinged, wood-paneled committee room was filled for the hearing, but the room was quiet as lawmakers and Wray made opening remarks.

Wray pledged that under his leadership the FBI would be driven by facts and would be impartial.

Christopher Wray
Christopher Wray during his televised confirmation hearing to be FBI director.
“My loyalty is to the Constitution and to the rule of law. Those have been my guideposts throughout my career, and I will continue to adhere to them no matter the test,” he said.

Democrats and Republicans alike asked the nominee about his thoughts on the investigation into Russian election interference and his loyalty to the president.

Many senators pressed Wray on whether he would keep the FBI independent from influence from the White House.

In a rapid-fire series of questions, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked about Wray’s thoughts on Donald Trump Jr.’s recently released emails concerning Russian information during the campaign and his opinions of some of Comey’s leadership decisions.

Under questioning, Wray told the panel he did not believe that the investigation special counsel Robert Mueller is leading is a “witch hunt,” as Trump has claimed.

“Do you realize that you’re stepping into the role of the director of the FBI at one of most contentious times in the history of American politics?” Graham said.

There have been many contentious moments in American history, Wray said, but “I think this one certainly ranks up there.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., opened his line of questioning by saying he is “troubled” by Trump’s firing of Comey. He said there is a need to understand Russian involvement in the 2016 election in order to prevent it going forward.

Patrick Leahy
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. Photo courtesy of U.S. Senate
“I don’t care if they’re helping a Republican or a Democrat, no country, especially an enemy, like Russia should be able to interfere with our … country,” Leahy said.

Leahy pressed Wray on his independence from the White House, saying the administration “may be expecting your loyalty” — a reference to a hearing last month when Comey told the committee the president had demanded his loyalty during a private dinner.

“My loyalty is to the Constitution, to the rule of law and to the mission of the FBI,” Wray said. “No one asked me for any sort of loyalty oath at any point during this process, and I sure as heck didn’t offer one.”

Leahy asked Wray what he would do if Trump were to ask him to do something illegal or unethical.

“First I would try to talk him out of it, and if that failed I would resign,” Wray said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., pressed Wray to commit to alerting the committee if he learns of efforts to tamper with the investigation into Russian interference in the election, led by Mueller.

He said he would consult officials before reaching out to the committee to ensure he was not jeopardizing the investigation, but that any effort to tamper with the investigation would be “unacceptable and inappropriate.”

Through the course of the hearing that stretched into the afternoon, Wray answered questions about child pornography, human trafficking, the role of the FBI in addressing the opiate crisis, and providing internal protections for whistleblowers within the agency.

Many senators lauded Wray’s resume, which includes working as a prosecutor and heading the criminal division of the Department of Justice during George W. Bush’s presidency. In recent years, he’s been in private practice, where his clients have included New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie during the scandal over closures of lanes on the George Washington Bridge in 2013.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chair of the committee, said he expects to move the confirmation process along quickly to get the position filled.

Late Wednesday morning as he left the room, Leahy reflected on past leadership of the federal law enforcement agency.

“When I was a young prosecutor I had some interactions with J. Edgar Hoover, and they were frightening,” Leahy said, pointing to the authoritarian tendencies widely attributed to Hoover.

“It’s influenced my thinking,” he said.

Leahy said he was satisfied with Wray’s responses to his questions and was receptive to the nominee.

“Unless something extraordinary came out of here that I’m not anticipating, I would expect to support (Wray),” he said.

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  • Edward Letourneau

    Political posturing for the left. In anything, these people should all be more interested in what the Russians had on Clinton! They should also be demanding that the servers that were reportedly hacked, turned over to the FBI and CIA for their inspection.

    • Mike McNally

      If ISIS had info on Hillary, people like you would say we should work with them. There were plenty of ways of attacking Hillary without resorting to colluding with one of our biggest enemies.

      Get over Hillary and demand trustworthy leadership.

    • Jeff Noordsy

      Regurgitating Trump tweets will rarely serve you well. The CIA plays no role in domestic surveillance – in fact, it is prohibited by law. In your haste to deflect and obfuscate you show a misunderstanding of the system and a reliance upon talking points that has been shown to be misguided.


      • Edward Letourneau

        They are separate agencies with different capabilities. But hey, explain why the democrats are refusing to allow examination of the server.

        • Jeff Noordsy

          “In his testimony in January on the cyber attacks, then-director of

          the FBI James Comey said the agency never got access to the machines
          themselves, but obtained access to the forensics from a review of the
          system performed by CrowdStrike, a third-party cybersecurity firm.

          “We got the forensics from the pros that they hired which — again,
          best practice is always to get access to the machines themselves, but
          this my folks tell me was an appropriate substitute,” Comey said.

          “The DNC coordinated with the FBI and federal intelligence agencies
          and provided everything they requested, including copies of DNC
          servers,” Watson said. She added that the copy contains the same
          information as the physical server.”

  • Jamie Carter

    Meddling by other countries is obviously a concern but what’s interesting to me is what it implies. It implies that Americans are incapable of informing themselves of a candidate and are unable to distinguish fact from fiction. It’s also is an indication at how poorly the media does it’s job in fact checking.

    If we want to ensure outside influences do not sway an election perhaps we should strive to instill that sense of civic duty that used to drive voters and eliminate the idea that it is perfectly acceptable to simple show up and start filling in circles with no idea of who you are voting for.

    • Willem Post

      Jamie Carter,

      EVERY color revolution in East Europe, etc., was instigated, financed, advised or led by US operatives.

      The latest example is Ukraine where over 2 dozen CIA and FBI operatives in Kiev were doing a standard solar revolution in 2014.

      They helped oust an elected President and replaced him with their hand-picked crew, such as Poroshenko.

      An early such coup was in Iran, where the President Mossadec was overthrown and the Shah of Iran was installed, with help of the CIA, in the 1950’s.

      The list of such meddling is VERY long.

      • Mike McNally

        Then Trump has brought that meddling home. What a great guy.

        A sitting president and his team have worked with a foreign government to conspire against a domestic political opponent. That’s insane. It’s more insane that people defend that.