Others’ opinion: FBI nominee Wray displays right stuff for a tough job

Published 5:02 pm Friday, July 14, 2017

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Christopher Wray showed himself to be the strong, adept, independent voice badly needed at the Federal Bureau of Investigation when he underwent his first round of confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate Wednesday.

Whatever his motive in nominating Wray, President Donald Trump has delivered someone who appears to hold as a bedrock principle that the FBI must, in Wray’s words, follow facts “wherever and to whomever they lead.” That is precisely the mind-set needed in the next FBI director. Wray would take charge of an agency that has been pilloried and politicized by both sides. Its intelligence-gathering has been dismissed by a president who churlishly rejects any information that conflicts with his own outlook.

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Wray’s task will be enormous. He must restabilize the agency itself, restore public confidence in its work and drain away the drama that has engulfed the bureau of late. His hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee was a good start. Low-key and unflappable, Wray told senators that “I will never allow the FBI’s work to be driven by anything other than the facts, the law and the impartial pursuit of justice, period, full stop. My loyalty is to the Constitution and the rule of law.” It was the kind of clear-cut, precise response once commonplace among government officials, but now noteworthy when measured against the obfuscation that has become a hallmark of this administration.

Wray shares much in common with Special Counsel Robert Mueller — both no-nonsense, by-the-book types with a strong sense of right and wrong. It was Mueller, along with then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who famously threatened to resign if the Bush White House pushed ahead on warrantless domestic wiretapping in 2004. What was not known until much later was that a third official was prepared to resign rather than become enmeshed in a program the Justice Department had advised was unconstitutional. That person was Christopher Wray, who told Mueller he would resign as well.

In an earlier interview with Wired, Wray told a reporter that Mueller “has a strong moral compass, and I think that’s the great thing about strong moral compasses is that they don’t have to hand wring. When they’re uncomfortable, they know what to do.”

Thoughtful, contained, driven, Wray is quick to note that “no one should mistake my low-key demeanor as lack of resolve or willingness to compromise on principle.” Asked whether he would be susceptible to presidential pressure, he replied, “There isn’t a person on this planet who could convince me to drop a properly prepared, meritorious undertaking.”

Wray’s nomination is not without some concerns. In private practice, he was the personal attorney for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie during the Bridgegate scandal, in which Christie appointees intentionally closed lanes in Fort Lee to create traffic jams as political payback. Wray was found to have the cellphone Christie used at the time and which he said had been “lost.” The information on that phone has never been revealed. Wray should expect to explain that incident to senators’ satisfaction. It should be noted that Wray’s relationship with Christie stretches back to a time when the New Jersey politician still had a stellar reputation as a hard-charging U.S. attorney for New Jersey.

Wray will need every ounce of integrity and fortitude he can muster to take on the job he seeks, which includes preparing this country for increasingly sophisticated cyberwarfare. He already has the support of Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, Democrats who questioned him during the judiciary hearing. Congress should work quickly to confirm him.