Wray: Mueller not "on a witch hunt"

So far, so good? Christopher Wray’s Senate confirmation hearing has not provided too many significant headlines, which is just the way that the White House wants it, and perhaps Republicans and Democrats alike on Capitol Hill — with one potential exception. Wray kept his opening statement to the Judiciary Committee relatively brief and to the point, which set the tone for the first part of the hearing:


The statement made no explicit mention of any current controversies or of the difficulties facing an FBI director in the current context. Wray referred to the ongoing efforts against “counterterrorism and counterespionage to the escalating threats of cybercrime,” but offered that in the same breath as the FBI’s mission to fight “human trafficking to public corruption and financial fraud,” and in the context of his previous experience at the Department of Justice.

The most provocative and potentially controversial comment Wray made did not come from a Democrat’s question, but from Republican Lindsey Graham. Graham insisted on getting an answer from Wray about Donald Trump’s contention that the Russia probe was a “witch hunt.” After initially demurring, Wray said he did not believe it was:


The man who appointed Wray argues otherwise, including this tweet from earlier today:


Other than that, it looks like smooth sailing for Wray. Even the “tough” questions from Democrats look more like softballs. Dianne Feinstein asked Wray whether any discussion of James Comey’s firing took place with people in the Trump administration. Wray insisted that he took part in no such discussions with the White House, and that the only such conversation was with deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, for whom Wray would have to work. The discussion only covered the fact that Wray would not have to deal with the Russia investigation, which would make life easier for a new FBI director:

Pat Leahy offered up another softball later, asking what Wray would do if instructed to perform an illegal act by Donald Trump. That’s more of an underhand pitch, and Wray answered it in straightforward fashion:

Leahy brings up Sally Yates, which is somewhat off-topic, because Yates wasn’t actually asked to do anything illegal. Yates refused to allow the DoJ defend the travel-ban EO in court because she disagreed with the policy, not because it was illegal. In fact, her stated objection conceded that it may well be legal as the Office of Legal Counsel had concluded, but that it was not “wise or just.” Instead of resigning over that objection, however, Yates chose insubordination, for which she was fired. In the end, the Supreme Court found that it was within the president’s authority, which means that Yates was actually wrong about its legality, but Leahy doesn’t acknowledge that. Nevertheless, Wray hits the underhand (and somewhat underhanded) pitch with the quick and expected response, and Leahy lets it drop.

That is also somewhat ironic, since Yates is one of dozens of former DoJ officials to endorse Wray. Another endorser is none other than Eric Holder, Barack Obama’s Attorney General who is sometimes mentioned as a potential presidential contender.

Put simply, Democrats have no incentive to make Wray look bad. He’ll get a few tough questions but no significant follow-ups. Perhaps they realize that Wray may be the best nominee they’ll get from Trump, and are satisfied to confirm him quickly rather than risk politicizing him and getting a more politicized nominee in his place. If so, it’s a smart move.