Donald Trump’s nominee for FBI director seems to disagree with everything President Donald Trump believes.
Christopher Wray thinks Special Counsel Robert Mueller is not on a witch hunt as he leads an investigation into possible Russian collusion during the presidential campaign. He thinks if a foreign government wants to interfere in an election, it would be smart for a senior campaign staffer like Donald Trump Jr. to let the FBI know before taking a meeting.
Wray says Russia acted in an adversarial matter toward the United States when it tried to influence the election. And he believes he and the president should not meet one on one unless there is an important national security matter to discuss. Finally, he’s not of the opinion James Comey is a “nut job.”
During a relatively milquetoast hearing, Christopher Wray used six different opportunities to put some daylight between the president’s opinions and his own. He assured members of the Senate Judiciary Committee he would be an apolitical, independent FBI chief who wouldn’t act as a White House patsy.
To put a stamp on that, he stated he would leave his post if he felt he were being asked to do something unethical by the president. “I would try to talk him out of it,” Wray said, if that kind of inquiry came in to him. “And if that failed, I would resign.”
Wray faced repeated questions about Trump’s unceremonious firing of former FBI Director James Comey, the Russia investigation, how he would lead the bureau, and national security matters ranging from cybersecurity to torture. Lawmakers from both parties seemed pleased with his answers, so his confirmation seems like a sure thing.
If Wray does get the job, the most important test of his time running the bureau will be whether he sticks to his promise at today’s hearing not to act like “Trump’s guy” at the FBI.
Below are the six most interesting moments from a confirmation hearing for one of Trump’s most important picks.
“I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) had by far the best exchange with Wray. Here’s the key takeaway: Wray doesn’t think Mueller is on an improper, politically driven witch hunt, despite what the president continues to say on Twitter.
Sen. Graham: “Do you consider this endeavor a witch hunt?”— CBS News (@CBSNews) July 12, 2017
Wray: “I do not consider director Mueller to be on a witch hunt.” pic.twitter.com/ZOIXWAhQdy
“Any threat or effort to interfere with our elections … is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know”
Graham again! The South Carolina senator is a vocal critic of the Trump administration’s coziness with Russia. He ensured the hearing did not transpire without a discussion of Donald Trump Jr.’s apparent collusion with the Russians.
Recall that the eldest Trump son didn’t contact the FBI before taking a meeting with a Kremlin-linked envoy who had explicitly promised information that “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”
In case that message somehow wasn’t clear enough, emails first obtained by the New York Times show the envoy went on to say the information is “obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Graham didn’t think that Trump should have taken the meeting or failed to contact the FBI, and he made sure Wray said so on the record.
Bonus! Watch Graham read the email exchange between Donald Trump Jr. and Rob Goldstone, the intermediary who helped set up the meeting.
“I think Russia is a foreign nation that we have to deal with very warily”
Third time’s the charm. Since Graham isn’t a Russia fan, he wanted to see if Wray is as inexplicably friendly toward Russia as Trump. It turns out he’s not — which will likely rankle the president.
Sen. Graham: “Is Russia our friend or our enemy?”— CBS News (@CBSNews) July 12, 2017
Wray: “I think Russia is a foreign nation that we have to deal with very warily.” pic.twitter.com/DWfhtUmKse
“I have no reason whatsoever to doubt the assessment of the intelligence community”
The president continues to reject the US intelligence community’s unanimous conclusion that Russia tried to meddle in the election to help him get into the White House. He’s even gone so far as to publicly disparage the US law enforcement and intelligence agencies and deride their analysis as wrong.
Wray, by contrast, says there is “no reason whatsoever” to doubt the intelligence community’s assessment.
Wray says "I have no reason whatsoever to doubt the assessment of the intelligence community" that Russia interfered in 2016 election. pic.twitter.com/nUnhVG5nWI— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) July 12, 2017
"I think the relationship between any FBI director and any president needs to be a professional one, not a social one"
Comey has told lawmakers that he was uncomfortable with Trump’s insistence on holding one on one meetings, which he saw as an improper presidential attempt to intrude on the FBI’s turf that risked threatening its independence.
Wray told Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) he doesn’t think that’s appropriate, except in an important national security matter. More concretely, a one-on-one meeting between the two should not cover how to run an investigation, Wray noted.
"I think the relationship between any FBI director and any president needs to be a professional one, not a social one," Wray says pic.twitter.com/E9LHYBwfkE— CBS News (@CBSNews) July 12, 2017
James Comey is not a nut job
President Trump thinks his former FBI director was a nut job. “I just fired the head of the FBI,” Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office. “He was crazy, a real nut job.” That’s not how Wray — a former Comey colleague — sees it.
So, if the president fired Comey because he didn’t advance the White House’s agenda, it doesn’t look like Wray will do that any better. But only time will tell how Wray does in his new role, if he’s confirmed.