Donald Trump names Christopher Wray FBI director pick on eve of James Comey hearing
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New York/Washington: President Donald Trump said Wednesday he will nominate former justice department official Christopher A. Wray as FBI director, a day before the man he fired from that post, James Comey, testifies before the Senate.
The timing suggests the White House is interested in trying to turn the page on Comey’s era at the FBI before the former director testifies to a Senate committee on whether Trump pressured him to ease off his investigation of Russian meddling in last year’s election and whether anyone on his campaign colluded in that effort.
Wray is best known as a white-collar defence attorney after serving as the US assistant attorney general in charge of the justice department’s criminal division from 2003 to 2005. More recently, he represented New Jersey governor Chris Christie in the so-called Bridgegate scandal investigation after traffic delays in 2013 on the George Washington Bridge.
During his tenure at the Justice Department, Wray was involved in the prosecution of HealthSouth Corp. founder Richard Scrushy on accounting fraud charges and of former Enron Corp. chief executive officer Jeffrey Skilling for fraud, conspiracy and insider trading.
Trump called Wray a man of “impeccable credentials” in announcing his choice on Twitter.
Initial reaction to Trump’s pick included praise from some of the president’s frequent critics, a positive sign of Wray’s potential to win bipartisan support in the Senate and right the FBI’s course after a tumultuous start to Trump’s presidency.
Matthew Miller, a justice department spokesman during the Obama administration, said in a tweet that Wray is “probably the best choice from the WH short list. His record in the Bush DOJ deserves scrutiny, but he’s a serious respectable pick.”
Former Obama administration ethics adviser Norm Eisen endorsed Trump’s decision, saying on Twitter that Wray is respected in the white-collar bar and did a good job on the Enron case.
Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat and vice chairman of the panel where Comey will testify Thursday, said on MSNBC that Trump’s timing was “curious” and appeared intended to change the subject from Comey’s testimony.
Warner doesn’t know that much about Wray, he said, but “I hear he had a good reputation.”
Wray left the Justice Department in 2005 and returned to the Atlanta-based law firm King & Spalding, where he’s now a litigation partner.
One of his most high-profile cases came in representing Christie, an early supporter of Trump during the 2016 election. While two former Christie aides were convicted of plotting to close lanes of the bridge as punishment to a Democratic mayor who wouldn’t endorse the Republican governor, Christie was never charged and denied any wrongdoing.
While Wray will face close questioning in his Senate confirmation hearing, his background as a justice department professional may give him an advantage. Senators of both parties had urged Trump to choose a law-enforcement professional rather than a politician when the president was considering choices such as Senator John Cornyn and former Senator Joe Lieberman.
At Justice, Wray helped lead the department’s efforts to address the wave of corporate fraud scandals, overseeing the prosecution of Enron and other major investigations. He received a law degree from Yale in 1992.
Trump’s decision ends the nearly month-long search for a successor to Comey, whom Trump fired 9 May.
Trump said 18 May, before leaving on his first foreign trip as president, that Lieberman was one of his top choices to lead the bureau.
Senate Democrats signalled their opposition to Lieberman, and he sent a letter to Trump withdrawing from consideration on 25 May, citing the possible appearance of a conflict of interest since he works at the same law firm as Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz.
If confirmed by the Senate, Wray would replace acting FBI director Andrew McCabe. The FBI’s work on the Russia investigation is being overseen by Robert Mueller, a former FBI director who was named special counsel for that probe by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein after Comey’s firing.
The White House had cited a memo from Rosenstein in announcing Comey’s firing in which Rosenstein criticized Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email case, although Trump later said in an interview that he would have fired Comey anyway. Trump has repeatedly called the Russia probe a “witch hunt.”
Attorney general Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe after misrepresenting his contact with Russian officials during the election.
Sessions’ recusal led to a widening rift with Trump, and a person familiar with the matter said Tuesday that Sessions has recently suggested he may resign. Bloomberg