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Senate presses Trump’s FBI director pick Wray for independence

July 12, 2017 at 6:35 PM EDT
FBI director nominee Christopher Wray faced the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday in his confirmation hearing. The former federal prosecutor and defense attorney faced a long list of questions about his independence and allegiance to the law, as well as his counterterrorism experience at the Justice Department. Lisa Desjardins reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF: As we noted earlier, the issue of Russian meddling figured into the Senate confirmation hearing today for Christopher Wray, the nominee to be the next FBI director.

But it was not the only topic of note. Senators were also trying to get a sense for whether Wray was the right person to lead the bureau through the political crosswinds of the day.

Lisa Desjardins takes it from there.

READ MORE: Who is Christopher Wray, Trump’s pick for FBI director

LISA DESJARDINS: He’s worked 25 years as both as a top federal a prosecutor and as defense attorney.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY,  R-Iowa: Do you affirm that the testimony you’re about to give before the committee will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you, God?

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI Director Nominee: I do.

LISA DESJARDINS: But Christopher Wray faced few questions about his experience, and instead a long list of them about his independence as a potential FBI chief.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, D-Vt.: If the president asked you to do something unlawful or unethical, what do you say?

CHRISTOPHER WRAY: First, I would try to talk him out of it. And if that failed, I would resign.

LISA DESJARDINS: It was one of many references to the last FBI director, James Comey, fired by President Trump. Comey claimed the president asked him to let go of investigating former aide Michael Flynn, and demanded a loyalty oath. The White House disputes all of that. But Wray, as the FBI nominee, was asked about his allegiance.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY: My loyalty is to the Constitution, to the rule of law, and to the mission of the FBI. And no one asked me for any kind of loyalty oath at any point during this process, and I sure as heck didn’t offer one.

LISA DESJARDINS: And about his conviction.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY: I believe to my core that there’s only one right way to do this job, and that is with strict independence, by the book, playing it straight, faithful to the Constitution.

LISA DESJARDINS: Wray spoke about his 2004 pledge to leave the Justice Department over the Bush administration’s use of warrantless wiretaps, which he believed were illegal. He was following the lead of Comey, then the deputy attorney general, and Robert Mueller, then the FBI director, and now the man in charge of the special Russia investigation.

READ MORE: Read FBI director nominee Chris Wray’s opening statement

CHRISTOPHER WRAY: I view him as the consummate straight-shooter, and somebody I have enormous respect for. And I would be pleased to do what I can to support him in his mission.

LISA DESJARDINS: Wray also worked on counterterrorism at the Justice Department, and was asked today about torture.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY: My view is that torture is wrong. It’s unacceptable, it’s illegal, and I think it’s ineffective.

LISA DESJARDINS: And about protecting Muslim Americans from backlash.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY: I think the FBI director and the FBI needs to be — the FBI and the FBI director for all Americans, including Muslim Americans. And my experience in terrorism investigations has been that some of the best leads we ever got were from members of that community.

LISA DESJARDINS: He stressed the need to fight terrorism, including cyber-terrorism, and protect classified information. In the end, senators of both parties seemed assured.

SEN. AL FRANKEN, D-Minn.: Looking around, I’m feeling that you have had a good hearing today. And best of luck to you, sir.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY: Thank you, Senator. That means a lot.

LISA DESJARDINS: If approved, Wray would be the eighth FBI director confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Lisa Desjardins.