Other Opinion: Trump's FBI pick deserves intense scrutiny
President Trump on Wednesday announced he would nominate veteran government lawyer Christopher Wray to be the next FBI director. Several hours later, the public got the text of testimony that the man Mr. Wray has been tapped to replace, ousted di...
President Trump on Wednesday announced he would nominate veteran government lawyer Christopher Wray to be the next FBI director.
Several hours later, the public got the text of testimony that the man Mr. Wray has been tapped to replace, ousted director James B. Comey, prepared to deliver at a Senate hearing Thursday. As legislators consider Mr. Wray's nomination and await Mr. Comey's full testimony, this much is clear: Mr. Wray must get much more intense scrutiny than the typical executive nominee, because it is evident that the next FBI chief may face severe pressure from a president who is unwilling to respect the boundaries of his office.
At first glance, Mr. Wray seems to be a solid choice. Mr. Trump was reported to have considered choosing a current or former politician for a job that has always gone to a law enforcement official. By contrast, Mr. Wray has not been involved directly in partisan politics. He held high positions in President George W. Bush's Justice Department, rising from federal prosecutor to head the department's Criminal Division. During that time, he worked on some of the major financial fraud cases of the era. He then went into private practice representing major corporations and, notably, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) during his "Bridgegate" scandal.
Mr. Wray's work during the Bush administration deserves a careful look, as does his relationship to Mr. Christie, a close Trump ally with whom he served in the Justice Department. But the most important line of questioning will concern how Mr. Wray views the role of FBI director and the relationship he intends to have with the man who appointed him.
According to Mr. Comey's prepared testimony, the president told the then-FBI director in a private January dinner, "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty." Mr. Comey declined to offer more than "honesty" and explained the importance of FBI independence. Yet, per Mr. Comey's account, the president later persisted in asking that the FBI back off its investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn and that Mr. Comey state publicly that Mr. Trump was not personally under investigation. The FBI complied with neither request, and the president fired Mr. Comey, citing the Russia investigation as a motivation.
Mr. Wray must be prepared to reveal whether Mr. Trump demanded his "loyalty" before nominating him to lead the FBI. He should detail his conversations with the president and in particular disclose whether the two discussed the Russia probe. If he admits to making any commitments or refuses to answer, the Senate should reject his nomination. He must explain what he would do if the president demanded that the FBI terminate an investigation involving Mr. Trump or his circle, or if other staffers from the White House or in the intelligence community pressured him to do so. This possibility is all too real: The Post reports that Mr. Trump tried to persuade Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats to influence Mr. Comey on the Russia probe. Mr. Wray should also say whether he would speak with the president one-on-one, an apparent habit of Mr. Trump's that Mr. Comey found inappropriate.
Thursday's testimony from Mr. Comey may bring more troubling revelations that will add to the pressure on Mr. Wray. Never before has a nominee for FBI director borne such a high burden to show that he will put the FBI's independent application of the law above all other considerations. The Washington Post