Christopher Wray should get a relatively easy ride through his Senate confirmation hearing, which starts at 9:30 am ET today and which will be broadcast live on C-SPAN. Wray comes to the hearing with significant bipartisan support; former Senator Sam Nunn, a Democrat, will formally introduce him to the Judiciary Committee. While Democrats have engaged in obstructionism on most other nominees of Donald Trump, the expectation is that the critical nature of the FBI director position will prompt them to allow for quick confirmation of the former Justice Department official to replace James Comey, a man who didn’t exactly endear himself on either side of the aisle over the last year or so.
That doesn’t mean Wray won’t have to field a few tough questions, and the toughest might be this: Why does he want the job at all?
Christopher Wray, President Trump’s pick to replace fired FBI Director James Comey, is set to testify in his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday morning, amid intensifying White House scrutiny over any collusion between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Senators on both sides of the aisle are bound to have a plethora of questions for the FBI director-designate, as he takes over for the man who was in charge of the FBI’s investigation into Russian election meddling and any ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. Wray’s testimony comes one day after Donald Trump Jr. released emails from last year arranging a meeting with a Russian lawyer to discuss what was to be “high level and sensitive information” that was allegedly a “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump” during the presidential campaign. Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last month that he believed Mr. Trump fired him because of the Russia investigation. …
Wray is leaving a lucrative law firm position to take a lower-paying job amid intense political scrutiny. Last year, he earned $9.2 million. Comey earned under $200,000 annually in base salary as FBI director. Plus, the president fired his last FBI director in a highly unusual move. Wray stands to take a very significant pay cut and will be subject to intense scrutiny and potential job instability as FBI director.
Let’s do the pluses and minuses. Wray gets to be FBI director for a ten-year maximum term, which would make him about 60 years old when he leaves — plenty of time to leverage his experience for high-income work as an attorney or in other fields, if he chooses. The position certainly raises his profile, and it undoubtedly offers Wray the opportunity to do challenging and satisfying work. The minuses: Big pay cut, much higher scrutiny, and significant restrictions on personal choices. Many people who take these kinds of positions do take salary cuts and embrace these other minuses in the process as part of their trade-off, so that’s not exactly unusual.
At this moment, though, there are some other significant minuses that are unique to this situation. First, Wray will work for a man who’s rather notorious for firing people, including Wray’s predecessor. Second, the FBI has just exited center stage in the Russia probe thanks to the establishment of Robert Mueller as special counsel, but it’s not fully off-stage either. Anyone who comes into the director position by Donald Trump’s appointment will get viewed with some suspicion regardless of their personal integrity. Wray’s setting himself up for a lot of these committee hearings over the next few years.
Today’s won’t exactly be gentle, either, as Democrats plan to probe Wray’s integrity to their own satisfaction:
“After Comey was fired, as the president said, to stop the Russia investigation, there are some fundamental questions that need to be asked about any director of the FBI,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said in an interview Tuesday. “Where is your commitment? Is your commitment to the law, or to the president who chose you?” …
Wray confronts the same high-wire balancing act that other Trump picks, including Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, faced during their hearings: demonstrating his independence from Trump without alienating him.
But for Wray, that question is even more dicey considering the circumstances in which Comey was fired. The former FBI director testified Trump told him during a private dinner that “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty” — and Wray is likely to be pressed on whether he, too, faced a similar loyalty oath.
“To be very blunt, he’s appointed by an administration that is under investigation for obstruction of justice,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), another member of the Judiciary Committee who will grill Wray on Wednesday. “So why is that? Why was he appointed? What has been said to him? And what has he said to others in the course of the interviews that were conducted leading to his nomination?”
Wray may get a few Bridgegate questions along the way too, although he won’t be able to answer in depth, as Chris Christie was his client in that case. They’ll likely drill down into Wray’s investment holdings and discuss how he plans to deal with any potential conflicts of interest if and when cases arise that involve corporations in his portfolio, but that’s pretty much SOP for these proceedings. What the panel members will really be asking Wray is whether it’s worth it — and it might be interesting to hear his answer.
Update: I initially left out the word “nominee” in the headline; fixed now.