Special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is not a “witch hunt,” as President Donald Trump has characterized it, Christopher Wray, Trump’s nominee to lead the FBI, said Wednesday during his confirmation hearing.
“In light of the Don Jr. email and other allegations that this whole thing about Russia is a witch hunt, is that a fair description of what we’re all dealing with in America?” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asked Wray. “I’m asking you, as the future FBI director, do you consider this endeavor a witch hunt?”
“I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt,” Wray said.
— Kelly O'Donnell (@KellyO) July 12, 2017
Hours before, Trump tweeted the opposite.
My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 12, 2017
Although Wray went to great lengths not to comment on the recent revelations surrounding Trump Jr. he praised Mueller several times throughout the hearing. Mueller, who was named as special counsel following the firing of former FBI director James Comey, is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with the Russian government to get Trump elected.
Wray said he did not know about the email chain Donald Trump Jr. tweeted Tuesday morning (despite wall-to-wall coverage by nearly every outlet since the tweet was sent) that showed him scheduling a meeting with a “Russian government lawyer” in order to get damaging information on former Secretary of State and Democratic nominee for president Hillary Clinton and thus could not comment on whether Trump, Jr. should have taken the meeting.
Here's my statement and the full email chain pic.twitter.com/x050r5n5LQ
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 11, 2017
“So let me ask you this. If I got a call from somebody saying the Russian government wants to get Lindsey Graham reelected, they’ve got dirt on Lindsey Graham’s opponent, should I take that meeting?” Graham asked Wray.
“Well senator, I’d think you’d want to consult with some good legal advisers before you did that,” Wray said.
Here is page 4 (which did not post due to space constraints). pic.twitter.com/z1Xi4nr2gq
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 11, 2017
Graham asked if that meant he should call the FBI if the Russian government wanted to help him get reelected, and Wray started to respond, saying, “I think it would be wise,” but was cut off by Graham, who said, “You’re going to be the director of the FBI, pal. So here’s what I want you to tell every politician. If you get a call from somebody suggesting that a foreign government wants to help you by disparaging your opponent, tell us all to call the FBI.”
Wray told the members of the committee, “[A]ny 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.”
Watch: Graham & Wray over Don Jr/Russia: “You’re gonna be the director of the FBI, pal…tell us all to call the FBI!” https://t.co/QfOXMQyN6J
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) July 12, 2017
Throughout Lindsey’s questioning and the rest of the hearing, Wray tried to avoid commenting on the specific recent revelations about the Trump campaign and Russia, but Graham got to the heart of the question, asking Wray whether Russia is a friend of the United States or an enemy.
Wray paused for a moment and then said, “Senator, I think Russia is a foreign nation that we have to deal with very warily,” adding that he thinks the Russia is, in some cases, an adversary of the United States and that hacking the 2016 election is one of those cases, noting that he has no reason to doubt the conclusions of the intelligence community.
The strange circumstances that led to Wray’s nomination also hung over his hearing. In her opening comments, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) focused on the firing of former FBI director James Comey.
“Based on press reports and the president’s own words, the reason Comey was dismissed was because he would not pledge loyalty to the president and lift the cloud of the Russia investigation,” Feinstein said.
Several times throughout the hearing and in his prepared statement, Wray said independence and impartiality were vital to his ability to do his job.
“If I am given the honor of leading this agency, I will never allow the FBI’s work to be driven by anything other than the facts, the law, and the impartial pursuit of justice. Period,” Wray said in his opening statement. “My loyalty is to the Constitution and the rule of law. They have been my guideposts throughout my career and I will continue to adhere to them no matter the test.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked Wray directly if anyone had asked Wray for loyalty to something or someone other than the Constitution and rule of law, alluding to the allegation Comey has made that Trump asked him for a loyalty pledge.
“Nobody has asked me for any loyalty oath and I wouldn’t offer one,” Wray said.
Wray also faced questions about how he would respond if Trump asked him to do something illegal.
“I would try to talk him out of it,” Wray said, “and if that failed, I would resign.”