US President Donald Trump on Wednesday surprised Washington with his choice to replace James Comey a day ahead of the ousted FBI director’s blockbuster congressional testimony, tapping a white-collar defense lawyer with strong law enforcement background.
US Senate Republicans and some Democrats praised the nomination.
In an early morning two-sentence tweet, Trump said he intended to nominate Christopher Wray, a high-ranking official in former US president George W. Bush’s Department of Justice who represented New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the Bridgegate scandal.
Trump, in a statement later on Wednesday, called Wray “an impeccably qualified individual.”
“I know that he will again serve his country as a fierce guardian of the law and model of integrity once the Senate confirms him to lead the FBI,” Trump said.
While the choice captured headlines early in the day, it was quickly overwhelmed by the advance release of Comey’s riveting testimony, in which he said Trump sought his loyalty at a January dinner.
The former FBI director also said he told the US president three times he was not under investigation in the probe of Russian meddling in last year’s US presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
The White House and its allies have been looking for ways to offset the potentially damaging testimony, and have been working on strategies aimed at undermining Comey’s credibility.
Trump abruptly fired Comey on May 9, roiling Washington and multiple congressional investigations and prompting the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The nomination of Wray — and the Senate confirmation hearings for the 10-year post — promise days more of public discussion about Trump and Russia.
Wray said he was honored to be selected.
“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,” he said.
Wray rose to head the justice department’s criminal division in the Bush administration and oversaw investigations into corporate fraud, at a time when Comey was US deputy attorney general.
Wray took charge of a task force of prosecutors and FBI agents created to investigate the Enron scandal.
Wray is a traditional choice for the job. Trump had considered current and former politicians, including former US senator Joe Lieberman, and some FBI agents expressed worry that Trump would try to politicize the bureau.
US lawmakers had little or no advance notice of Trump’s choice.
The response in the US Senate, where Wray would only need a simple majority vote, was supportive, but cautious.
“Christopher Wray’s legal credentials and law enforcement background certainly make him a suitable candidate to lead the FBI,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said.
It could take “a couple weeks” to receive all of Wray’s nomination paperwork before the committee begins considering his nomination, Grassley said.
After this week, the US Congress is only in session for six weeks before the five-week August recess.
US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised Wray, saying his “impressive credentials make him more than ready for the sober task of leading the FBI in fulfilling its law enforcement and national security missions, especially at a time when our country faces so many serious threats both at home and abroad.”
US Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat on the committee, said he, too, was encouraged that Trump’s pick is a veteran of law enforcement “rather than a career in partisan politics, as was rumored over the past several weeks.”
Wray’s nomination is sure to be caught up by questions from both parties — but especially Democrats — over whether he will be able to be independent of Trump, how he will handle the investigation into Russia’s election meddling and how he will interact with Mueller.
“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,” US Senator Bill Nelson said.
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