Trump FBI pick testifies no one asked him for 'loyalty oath'

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Faced with questions about Russian election interference and the possibility of collusion with the Trump campaign, President Trump's nominee for FBI director today stood firm in his belief in the agency's independence, pushing back against any suggestion that he'd interfere with the Justice Department's special investigation of the matter.

"My loyalty is to the Constitution, the rule of law and to the mission of the FBI," Christopher Wray said in response to questioning this morning by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. "No one asked me for any kind of loyalty oath at any point during this process and I sure as heck didn't offer one."

The remarks came during Wray's confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, just over two months after Trump fired James Comey -- a move that set off a sequence of events that amplified the probe into Russian meddling.

Trump later said he was thinking about the FBI's Russia investigation when he made the decision to dismiss Comey, an action that is now reportedly being reviewed by Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller -- himself a former FBI director -- as a possible act of obstruction of justice.

Comey later testified that President Trump said, "I need loyalty" and "I expect loyalty" during a private dinner between the two in January -- a conversation he said included discussion of the director's continued employment, which Trump has denied.

On the topic of Mueller's investigation, Wray declared his respect for the special counsel and said he would be "very committed" to supporting him. He additionally dismissed the suggestion that the probe would face interference under his watch.

"I would consider an effort to tamper with director Mueller's investigation to be unacceptable and inappropriate and would need to be dealt with very sternly and appropriately," Wray said.

In a particularly spirited exchange with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Wray was asked about a hypothetical situation in which the senator was presented with the kind of opportunity that the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., faced in a series of emails in June 2016.

Donald Trump Jr. released screenshots of the emails Tuesday apparently showing how he was offered, and accepted, the chance to meet with a person who was said to be a Russian government attorney who had incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.

"I would think you would want to consult with some good legal advisers before you did that," Wray said.

Further pressed by Graham, he added, "To the members of this committee, any threat or effort to interfere with our elections from any nation state or any non-state actor is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know."

As the hearing continued on the subject of the Russia investigation, Wray was asked to respond to Trump's efforts to label the probe as fruitless -- "I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt," he said -- and whether he understands the challenges faced by the FBI in a tumultuous time.

"I fully understand that this is not a job for the faint of heart and I can assure this committee, I am not faint of heart," Wray said.

He also said, "I believe to my core that there's only one right way to do this job and that is with strict independence, by the book, playing it straight, faithful to the Constitution, faithful to our laws and faithful to the best practices of the institution. Without fear, without favoritism and certainly without regard to any partisan political influence."

Formerly an assistant attorney general under President George W. Bush, Wray now works as a lawyer in private practice. He was nominated by Trump in June to lead the FBI.

The position of FBI director carries a 10-year term and requires Senate confirmation by a majority of 51 votes.

Wray has a second-degree connection to the president through New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, whom he represented in matters related to the "Bridgegate" scandal. Christie, a former candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, was an early and vocal supporter of Trump's upon dropping out from the race himself. He was on Trump's shortlist of vice presidential choices, and was named by the president to lead a government commission on opioid addiction.

Since Comey's termination, Andrew McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI, has served as acting director. Prior to Wray's nomination, Trump considered a number of candidates for the director position, among them McCabe, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas and former Sen. Joe Lieberman -- once cited by Trump as a top choice -- who withdrew from the selection process in May citing a potential conflict of interest.

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