Christopher Wray has just been confirmed as the next FBI director in a 92-5 Senate vote, replacing James Comey and thrusting himself squarely in the middle of the investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia during the 2016 election.
But getting a bitterly divided Senate to confirm him was an easy challenge compared with what comes next. Wray will have to convince government officials — especially FBI employees — and the general public that he will be an independent-minded leader and not a Trump lackey.
He addressed this very issue during his confirmation hearing. "I think the relationship between any FBI director and any president needs to be a professional one, not a social one,” Wray said.
Still, he will face skepticism when he walks into FBI headquarters on his first day. As my Vox colleague Dara Lind explains:
Wray is a former Justice Department official. He ran the criminal division of the Department of Justice under George W. Bush, from 2003 to 2005. That means he has professional experience working with the FBI, though not experience working within it.
FBI agents might see that as a crucial difference.
They value their independence, which they feel is under attack from the White House. And they have reason not to trust that the Trump administration (and Trump family) is doing everything it can to help with the investigation.
So Wray has his work cut out for him: not only proving himself to his new colleagues, but also overseeing the Russia investigation, which reaches all the way to the White House’s power center. Yesterday, for example, the Washington Post reported that Trump dictated his son Donald Trump Jr.’s misleading response about the meeting he and other campaign officials had with a Kremlin-tied lawyer during the election.
It remains to be seen if Wray will be able to do the job — and for how long an anxious president will allow him to do it. One thing is for sure: Wray won’t want to meet the same fate Comey did.
Wray seems to disagree with Trump on a lot
One noteworthy thing about Wray is that he appears to disagree with many of the president’s views.
First — and most critically — he doesn’t believe special counsel Robert Mueller is on a witch hunt as he leads the Russia probe. “I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt,” he told Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
Wray also believes Russia acted in an adversarial manner toward the United States when it tried to influence the 2016 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 that Comey is a “nut job,” as Trump described him back in May.
Throughout his hearing, Wray made a point to show that he is not Trump’s guy — just his pick. He even noted 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.”
But for now, Wray has the job. Many will be interested to see what he does with it — especially the president.