Christopher Wray is new FBI director: Former criminal lawyer who disagreed with Donald Trump multiple times

After firing former FBI director James Comey for allegedly leading a criminal investigation into Russia's involvement in the 2016 United States presidential election, President Donald Trump nominated high-flying criminal lawyer Christopher Wray for the vacant position. Unlike some of his other recent appointments, like Anthony Scaramucci or Sarah Sanders, who toe his line of thought, Wray has publically disagreed with Trump's beliefs.

Wray has claimed that he would resign rather than bow to political interference. Similar to what Comey believed in, Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the one right way to do this job is with strict independence. "You can't do a job like this without being prepared to either quit or be fired at a moment's notice when you're asked to do something or confronted with something that is either illegal, unconstitutional or even morally repugnant," he said.

The US Senate overwhelmingly confirmed Wray as the new director of the FBI on Tuesday. The top Democrat on the panel, California senator Dianne Feinstein, said Wray "has the strength and fortitude to stand up and do what it is right when tested."

File image of Christopher Wray. AP

File image of Christopher Wray. AP

Having been nominated by Trump, who was being investigated by Comey, Wray's biggest challenge will be to convince government officials – especially the FBI employees – that he will be an independent leader and not someone who will bow to Trump.

Dara Lind of Vox explained that the FBI agents value their independence, which they feel is under attack from the White House and they have reason not to trust that the Trump administration (and Trump family) is doing everything it can to help with the investigation. They might consider Wray as an outsider.

Wray is a former Justice Department official, who ran the criminal division of the Department of Justice under George W Bush, from 2003 to 2005. This means that he has worked closely with the FBI but does not have any experience working within it. Wray has also assisted in Justice Department investigations related to the 9/11 attacks and the War on Terror. However, never having served in electoral politics makes him more in line with previous FBI heads.

A former US attorney in northern Virginia, Neil MacBride, called Wray a "great pick" for the FBI job and said he brings "deep law enforcement and prosecutorial background, great judgment [and] even temperament," according to The Politico.

The Hindu quoted legal experts as saying that Wray might have to step aside from some investigations because he is likely to face a conflict of interest at the agency due to his defence work for many big companies. Born into a family of New York lawyers, Wray, 50, graduated from Yale Law School. In 2005, he resigned from the Justice Department to join private practice as a partner at King & Spalding law firm in Washington and Atlanta.

The Chris Christie connection Wray has represented major companies in litigation but also, most recently, worked for Trump ally Chris Christie in the so-called "Bridgegate" political scandal in New Jersey. Wray's track to this important post can be traced back to his ties with Christie, who is a Trump ally and one of his key supporters during last year's campaign. According to the Daily News, Wray has donated about $35,000 to Republican candidates since 2008, including Tom Price, Trump's health and human services secretary, and Senator David Perdue, the cousin of Sonny Perdue, Trump's agriculture secretary.

At his current law firm, Wray works with Bobby Burchfield, Trump's "independent ethics adviser" for private business.

The disagreements with Trump

Despite these business ties, Wray has disagreed with Trump on a number of things. The Vox report states that Wray believes Russia acted in an adversarial manner towards the United States when it tried to influence the election.

Wray said that if a foreign government wants to interfere in an election, it would be smart for a senior campaign staffer like Donald Trump Jr to let the FBI know before taking a meeting. He also believes that he and the president should never meet face to face unless there is an important national security matter to discuss.

Wray has also rejected the president's view that the Russia probe was a "witch hunt" based on "fake news". "I do not consider director Mueller to be on a witch hunt," Wray assured the Senate panel. The Russia investigation is now being led by Robert Mueller, a former FBI director.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Aug 02, 2017 14:24 PM

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