James Comey’s downfall and the ongoing Russia investigation loomed over the session like no other subject. FBI directors are “charged with running a vast agency with tremendous power,” said Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, the committee’s chairman. “This power, if used inappropriately, could threaten the civil liberties of every American.” With that in mind, he said Wray’s record reflected his “commitment to independence.”
Other senators pressed him on that issue. California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s ranking member, asked Wray whether he had discussed Comey’s dismissal with anyone at the White House. He replied that he hadn’t, although he said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made what he characterized as an innocuous passing reference to it when urging Wray to accept the position.
Wray also tried to reassure Feinstein he would support the Russia inquiry currently headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director himself. “I view him as the consummate straight shooter and somebody I have enormous respect for, and I would be pleased to do what I can to support him in his mission,” he told the committee, adding that the two men previously worked together during the George W. Bush administration.
When pressed by the senator, Wray said he would notify the committee about any efforts to interfere with Mueller’s inquiry as long as it was legally possible. “I would consider an effort to tamper with Director Mueller's investigation to be unacceptable and inappropriate, and to be dealt with sternly and appropriately indeed,” he added.
Comey’s allegations that Trump asked him to pledge his personal loyalty raised questions about whether the president would demand a similar promise from his successor. In exchanges with Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, Wray further distanced himself from the administration. “Nobody asked me for any kind of loyalty oath during this process, and I sure as heck wouldn’t give one if asked,” Wray told him. When Leahy asked if he would obey an illegal order if a president gave him one, Wray said flatly that “first, I would try to talk him out of it, and if that failed, I would resign.”
At the same time, he largely skirted answering questions about the ongoing Russia probe. Wray told legislators he had “no reason to doubt” the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusions of Russian culpability, and said he did not consider Mueller’s probe to be a “witch hunt,” as the president does. But on specifics, Wray demurred. “Should Donald Trump Jr. have taken that meeting?” asked South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, referring to Trump Jr.’s controversial encounter with a Russian lawyer in June 2016. “Well, senator, I’m hearing for the first time your description of it,” he said, seemingly suggesting he missed recent news reports about the meeting. He declined to comment further.