President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he would nominate Christopher A. Wray, a former DOJ official, to lead the FBI.
Wray is a partner at King & Spalding, a law firm with offices in Washington, D.C. and Atlanta. He worked at the Department of Justice as an assistant attorney general for two years in the George W. Bush administration.
He kept New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie out of jail during the ‘Bridgegate’ case that ended in charges for three of the Republican’s aides but not the governor.
Trump said Wray is ‘a man of impeccable credentials’ in a Wednesday morning tweet that appeared on his personal account. He promised additional details on the appointment that will run through the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate.
‘He is an impeccably qualified individual, and I know that he will again serve his country as a fierce guardian of the law and model of integrity once the Senate confirms him to lead the FBI,’ Trump said in a White House statement that was distributed in the afternoon.
Asked about Wray after he landed in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Wednesday, Trump said, ‘He’s going to be great.’
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Wray was assumed to be a finalist for the position after he interviewed with the president. Lawmakers, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Chuck Grassley, the head of the upper chamber’s Judiciary Committee, said they were blindsided by today’s tweet, however.
The announcement hit two hours before Trump’s acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, and his deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, were to take the stand in the first of two Senate hearings this week that will examine the president’s shock firing of the bureau’s previous head, James Comey.
Comey is expected to dispute the president’s version of the events that preceded his firing in testimony Thursday but stop short of claiming Trump obstructed justice.
Trump fired Comey in a letter that was hand-delivered to the FBI on May 9 while the law enforcement official was at a bureau branch in LA.
The letter cited a lack of confidence in his ability to lead the bureau as the reason for dismissal, and it included a revelation that Comey told Trump three times that he was not under investigation.
Two other memos in the packet signed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rosenstein, his deputy, backed up Trump’s decision.
In three pages, Rosenstein crucified Comey for running the FBI into the ground.
The bureau’s ‘reputation and credibility have suffered substantial damage’ over the past year, Rosenstein wrote, ‘and it has affected the entire Department of Justice.’
Rosenstein said he could not defend Comey’s treatment of Hillary Clinton’s email case and harangued the FBI director for refusing to admit he made ‘serious mistakes.’
‘It is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives,’ Rosenstein contended.
Among the mistakes Comey made was his decision to ‘usurp’ Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s authority at a July 2016 press conference where he declared ‘no reasonable prosecutor’ would bring a case against Clinton.
Lynch had recused herself from the investigation following an encounter with Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, at an Arizona airport.
At most, Rosenstein said Comey should have pronounced the FBI’s work finished and handed the case to federal prosecutors.
‘The FBI director is never empowered to supplant federal prosecutors and assume command of the Justice Department.’
The White House initially laid the firing at Rosenstein’s feet. Three senior Trump aides scrambled to spin Comey’s canning as Rosenstein’s idea on TV that night, only to back track and say it was the president who first brought the subject up.
Trump had been considering a change at the bureau for months, they later said. He acted after receiving oral recommendations from Sessions, who had recused himself from all probes of the previous election, and Rosenstein that he asked them to put in writing.
His administration maintains that it was Comey’s mishandling of Clinton’s emails – and his inaccurate testimony to a congressional committee – that landed him on the chopping block, not his investigations into the president’s campaign and his associates.
Comey was probing allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia before and after the presidential election. He was also looking into Trump’s ex-national security advisor, Michael Flynn.
Flynn is under scrutiny for payments he received from the Turkish and Russian governments for work he did not report to the U.S. government. His conversations with the Russian ambassador in the transitional period between Election Day and Trump’s inauguration are also under review.
At a Senate hearing tomorrow Comey will answer questions about an attempt he says Trump made when they were alone in the Oval Office to wave him off Flynn.
The New York Times said in a Tuesday evening report that Comey told Sessions the following day that he was uncomfortable with the private conversations the president insisted on having and asked him to step in.
Another bombshell report in the Washington Post claimed that Trump asked his director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, to get the FBI to back off Flynn in March.
Trump canned Comey in May.
Filling the vacancy created by Comey’s firing has proven a tough task. A wave of current and retired lawmakers and former feds dropped out of the running after interviewing for the job.
Trump promised he’d have a name ‘very soon’ before he left on foreign travel in late May but had to return to the drawing board when his favorite candidate for the position walked away.
The president was close to naming former Democratic senator Joe Lieberman to the law enforcement position – then Sessions informed him that Justice had appointed Comey’s predecessor, Robert Mueller, special counsel and was giving him authority over the FBI’s Russia and election cases.
While he was out of the country Trump retained the services of Kasowitz Benson Torres namesake Marc Kasowtiz to act as outside counsel on the numerous Russia investigations that have sprouted up not just within the FBI but on Capitol Hill, as well.
Lieberman, a former Democratic vice presidential nominee who identifies now as an Independent, is employed at Kasowitz. He informed the White House that it would be a ‘conflict of interest’ for him to oversee the FBI, given his firm’s role in Trump’s defense.
Trump interviewed Wray and one other candidate presumed to be a finalist for the position last week, on Tuesday.
He said this morning that he had arrived at a decision and a formal nomination was coming.
‘I will be nominating Christopher A. Wray, a man of impeccable credentials, to be the new Director of the FBI. Details to follow,’ he tweeted.
An official statement said, ‘I am proud to announce Christopher as my choice as the Director of the FBI. During his previous service at the Department of Justice, Christopher was the leader of major fraud investigations, and was a key part of the team overseeing the Justice Department’s actions in the war on terrorism following the 9/11 attacks.
‘He is an impeccably qualified individual, and I know that he will again serve his country as a fierce guardian of the law and model of integrity once the Senate confirms him to lead the FBI.’
Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump decided on Wray ‘not too long’ after meeting with him.
The principle deputy press secretary told reporters riding with the president back from Ohio on Air Force One that Trump was ‘ was impressed with him across the board, in particular the bipartisan support he felt that he would get.’
Wray must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate to assume the position as FBI director. But with Republicans in charge, Wray is basically a lock. So much so that Trump did not even bother to give the chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary committee a heads up.
A Grassley spokesman told the Associated Press that the tweet was the first the senator had heard of it. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top-ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, was also caught flat-footed.
House Speaker Ryan was with the president yesterday at the White House, and he said Wednesday that he had no inkling the announcement was coming.
Wray appears to be ‘the perfect kind of person’ to serve as FBI director, Ryan said.
Wray was – from 2003 to 2005 – the assistant attorney general in charge of the Department of Justice’s criminal division. He was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate unanimously.
Comey was also at the Justice Department at the time, serving as his superior in the role of deputy attorney general.
Wray had started out as an assistant U.S. attorney for the northern district of Georgia from 1997 to 2001, before becoming an associate deputy attorney general in May 2001, quickly moving to the position of principle associate deputy attorney general in September of that year.
He oversaw the Enron Task Force and other major fraud investigations, while working at the DOJ.
More recently, Wray served as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s personal lawyer during the ‘bridgegate’ case.
Christie was cleared of any wrongdoing, though three of the governor’s aides were charged.
‘I have the utmost confidence in Chris,’ Christie told a New Jersey paper last week as Wray emerged as a leading FBI director candidate. ‘He’s an outstanding lawyer. He has absolute integrity and honesty, and I think that the president certainly would not be making a mistake if he asked Chris Wray to be FBI director.’
Wray has worked at the law firm of King & Spalding since leaving the Justice Department in 2005.
He is likely step down from his partnership in order to go though the Senate confirmation process.
Wray’s law firm also has ties to the Trump administration, with the president naming another partner, Gilbert Kaplan, undersecretary of commerce for international trade in April.
Additionally, partner Bobby Burchfield is ethics adviser to the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust that the president set up to hold his business assets.
Trump’s director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, is also a veteran of the firm.
Due to Burchfield’s role, Wray could be asked during his Senate confirmation hearings if he had any connection to the Trump Organization or the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust.
As Newsweek pointed out, Trump had signed an executive order barring political appointees from ‘participat[ing] in any matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or clients,’ during the first two years of serving in a government position.
If Wray’s work never touched Burchfield’s, the FBI director-designate would be off the hook.
Washington was uncharacteristically quiet on the nomination of Wray, with the news cycle dominated by back-to-back Senate hearings this week, with Comey’s testimony coming Thursday.
Trump’s own Attorney General Jeff Sessions waited several hours before making a statement of support.
‘Chris Wray is an extraordinary person, possessing all the gifts necessary to be a great Director of the FBI,’ Sessions said. ‘I congratulate President Trump for choosing a leader of proven skill, independence, and integrity, a man in whom all Americans can have confidence.’
Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, also had nice things to say about Trump’s pick.
‘Chris Wray is tough, qualified and principled,’ Sasse said in a statement. ‘I look forward to sitting down with him to discuss both his commitment to our justice system and his vision for restoring public trust.’
All that Republican Sen. James Lankford would say is ‘we will evaluate Christopher Wray’s qualifications.’
The American Civil Liberties Union, a liberal free speech group, was openly displeased with the pick, citing conflicts on interest.
‘Christopher Wray’s firm’s legal work for the Trump family, his history of partisan activity, as well as his history of defending Trump’s transition director during a criminal scandal makes us question his ability to lead the FBI with the independence, even-handed judgment, and commitment to the rule of law that the agency deserves,’ said the ACLU’s National Political Director Faiz Shakir in a statement.
By FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT and NIKKI SCHWAB U.S. POLITICAL REPORTER FOR DAILYMAIL.COM