WASHINGTON – Christopher Wray, President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the FBI, told lawmakers Wednesday that he would vacate his post before executing an order from the president he believed to be unlawful.
“First, I would try to talk him out of it and if that fails I would resign,” Wray told Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing.
Wray told the committee that he would lead the Bureau free of political considerations.
“I believe to my core that there is only one right way to do this job and that is with strict independence,” he said.
Wray testified that he believes the Bureau should conduct investigations: “Without fear, without favoritism, and certainly without regard to any partisan and political [considerations],” he explained.
Wray, who is currently a partner at the Atlanta-based law firm King & Spalding, served in the Bush administration from 2003-2005. Wray also worked in the Clinton Justice Department during the late 1990s as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.
Wray, if confirmed, would be tasked with overseeing the Bureau in a tumultuous atmosphere. President Trump in May fired director James Comey, who was investigating allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and high-ranking Russian officials.
Wray told the committee that he would cooperate with Independent Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe on potential collusion, which was established after Comey’s termination.
“I would be pleased to support him in his mission,” Wray said in response to a question from Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
Wray testified that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whom Mueller appointed, briefed him about Comey’s termination but that such matters were not discussed with the White House.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Wray if he agrees with President Trump’s contention that Mueller’s investigation constitutes a political witch hunt.
“I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch-hunt,” Wray said.
Graham asked Wray whether Donald Trump Jr. made the right decision in meeting with a Russian attorney with alleged Kremlin ties last summer; Trump Jr. exchanged emails with an acquaintance who offered to broker the meeting for the purpose of providing potentially damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
Graham proceeded to read excerpts from the emails – which Trump Jr. released Tuesday – and pressed for a response.
“I’m not really in a position to speak to it,” Wray said.
Graham continued to push.
“If I got a call from somebody saying the Russian government wants to help Lindsey Graham get re-elected, they’ve got dirt on Lindsay Graham’s opponent, should I take that meeting,” he inquired.
Wray cautiously responded.
“Senator, I would think you’d want to consult with some good legal advisers before you did that,” he replied.
Graham then asked if foreign interference in U.S. elections warranted the FBI’s attention.
“Any threat or effort to interfere in with our elections, by any nation-state, or non-state actor, is the kind of thing that the FBI would want to know,” Wray replied.