FBI Director nominee Christopher Wray testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 12, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
FBI Director nominee Christopher Wray testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 12, 2017, at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Trump's pick for FBI Director pledges independence

DONALD Trump's pick for FBI Director, Christopher Wray, has pledged that he will lead an independent bureau without regard for partisan politics while refusing to wear loyalty to Mr Trump and rejecting his description of the investigation into Russian election meddling as a "witch hunt".  

Testifying to a Senate committee as part of his confirmation hearing, he said: "My loyalty is to the Constitution, to the rule of law, and to the mission of the FBI, and 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," .

Mr Wray's confirmation hearing comes amid fallout from scandals related to Mr Trump's firing of former FBI chief James Comey. The US President dismissed Mr Comey in May, telling a television reporter that his decision was because of the ongoing probe into the election meddling and Mr Trump's campaign team's possible ties to Russia.

"When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said 'You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should've won'," Mr Trump told NBC.

Mr Trump's firing of Mr Comey ultimately led to the Justice Department's appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller to lead the investigation into whether Trump campaign advisers colluded with the Russian government.

The appointment of Mr Mueller was considered a victory for Democrats, who had asserted that if Americans were to have faith in the impartiality of the Russia investigation, then it must not be left in the hands of the FBI.

In a series of statements on Twitter, Mr Trump has called Mr Mueller's investigation a "witch hunt".

But, In perhaps one of his first displays of independence from the White House, Mr Wray told senators on Wednesday, "I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt."

Mr Wray had said in his opening statement to the Senate panel that if given "the honour 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." 

The candidate for FBI director also testified that no one from the White House or the Justice Department had talked to him about the firing of Mr Comey, with the exception of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had reached out to him about the role and would be his boss.

Mr Wray said that Mr Rosenstein had told him that he had appointed a special counsel to handle the Russia investigation, which "made for a better landscape to consider taking on this position".

The Justice Department had been considering several candidates, including politicians, for the role, and observers had speculated that Mr Trump's pick could politicise or weaken the FBI's credibility as an independent agency.

Mr Trump ultimately selected Mr Wray, a highly regarded criminal defence lawyer who oversaw the Justice Department's criminal division under President George W Bush.

But Mr Trump's decision to pick a candidate with a background in federal law enforcement still did not do much to assuage fears that he would want loyalty from Mr Wray.

During the confirmation hearing, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse asked Mr Wray to provide the committee "with a complete description of what you know about how it is that you came to be selected" to lead the FBI.

Also during the proceedings, Democratic Senator Richard Durbin brought up how Mr Comey had testified that his private meetings with Mr Trump had made him uncomfortable.

In the month following the Comey firing, news outlets revealed that Mr Trump had possibly attempted to abuse his powers as president during his private interactions with Mr Comey - culminating in the ex-FBI director's public testimony in June before the Senate Intelligence Committee, one of the congressional groups conducting a probe into Russia's meddling into the 2016 US election.

While testifying before the committee in June, Mr Comey said he believed that the President had directed him to halt the FBI's inquiry into ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned in February after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his interactions with Russian officials.

Mr Comey also testified that Mr Trump said to him during a one-on-one White House dinner: "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty." The White House has denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Durbin asked Mr Wray what he would do if he was asked to meet privately with the President, to which the nominee responded that he would call Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if this happens.

"My preference and my presumption...there should be other people in the room," Mr Wray said. However, he added there is the possibility that he may need to discuss certain national security matters privately with the President.

"The relationship between any FBI director and any president needs to be a professional one, not a social one," he said.

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