Christopher Wray, President Donald Trump's nominee to head the FBI, has the potential to become the director the agency needs right now, a consummate professional who can firmly reject executive interference and run an independent operation. The Senate will have to confirm his appointment, but early signs point to Wray being a solid choice.
Trump announced his decision Wednesday on Twitter, calling Wray a "man of impeccable credentials." The nominee has worked with both James Comey, the former FBI director whom Trump fired, and Robert Mueller, the special counsel who is investigating possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign. In 2004, both Comey and Mueller — who was FBI director at the time — threatened to resign when White House aides pressured Comey to rubber-stamp a reauthorization of a National Security Agency program for eavesdropping without warrants, which both men believed was illegal. Over principle, Wray offered to join them, willing to quit his Justice Department post as the government's top criminal prosecutor. That sort of independence bodes well for him to resist any inappropriate presidential pressure and preserve the FBI's independence and integrity.
Wray, 50, is now a partner at the Washington law firm of King & Spalding, but under President George W. Bush from 2003 to 2005, he led the criminal division of the Justice Department. In that role, he oversaw the Enron Task Force, among other corporate fraud matters. He was also involved in anti-terrorism cases stemming from the Sept. 11 attacks. In recent years, he was attorney for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, representing him in "Bridgegate," the politically motivated lane closures at the George Washington Bridge.
In a statement, Wray called his selection a "great honor" and said, "I look forward to serving the American people with integrity as the leader of what I know firsthand to be an extraordinary group of men and women who have dedicated their careers to protecting this country."
Private attorney Bill Mateja, who worked with Wray in the Justice Department, told the Washington Post: "If people thought that Trump might pick a lackey, Chris Wray is not Trump's lackey." Matthew Miller, a spokesman in the Department of Justice under President Barack Obama and a vocal Trump critic, called Wray a "serious, respectable pick."
The early word is that FBI agents are likely to be happy with the choice. Democrats, while careful in their reaction, did not condemn the pick as they surely would have done with an obviously more political one. Sen. Bill Nelson released this measured statement: "The FBI is responsible for some of our nation's most important investigations and needs a professional who is willing to stand up to the administration when necessary."
Wray is a much more traditional choice than some of the other candidates Trump was considering. While the Senate hearings will provide an appropriate chance to raise pointed questions and reveal any problematic issues that are so far unknown, the initial signs point to Wray being a deliberative, low-key pick to lead an important agency at a difficult time.