He also publicly defended Mueller’s integrity, even as some pro-Trump surrogates and media outlets had begun challenging the special counsel’s impartiality. “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.
This new gig is not the first time Wray will work alongside the special counsel. Wray led the Justice Department’s Criminal Division during the George W. Bush administration when Mueller was FBI director. He was also among the top Justice Department officials who planned to resign in protest alongside then-Deputy Attorney General Comey and then-FBI Director Mueller during a showdown with the White House over the Stellar Wind warrantless-surveillance program.
As his confirmation hearing wound down, Wray had apparently soothed the fears of Democrats and some Republicans on the committee over his commitment to keeping the bureau impartial. Multiple top Democratic senators, including California’s Dianne Feinstein and Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal, publicly declared they would support his confirmation—a rare vote of confidence from Democrats in a Trump nominee.
On Tuesday, the only senators to vote against his confirmation were New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, Massachusetts’ Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, and Oregon’s Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden. North Carolina’s Richard Burr and Minnesota’s Al Franken did not vote; Arizona’s John McCain was also absent as he recovers from brain-cancer treatment.
A criminal and counterintelligence probe of the Russia investigation’s magnitude would be challenging under any circumstances. But Wray’s work will be complicated by the man who appointed him to the position. In both public declarations and private conversations, Trump has made clear his feelings about the inquiry. He routinely describes it as a “witch hunt” hyped up by Democrats who are still smarting over his upset victory last November.
But the FBI has greater constraints on it today than it has in the past. Under J. Edgar Hoover, the bureau collected secret files on thousands of Americans and violated civil liberties with relative impunity. Congress and the FBI’s leadership reined in the organization after Watergate, imposing 10-year terms on directors—Hoover held the post for decades—and reshaping its professional culture toward strict political neutrality. During his tenure, Comey reportedly kept a copy of the request to wiretap Martin Luther King Jr.’s phones in his desk as a reminder of the bureau’s dark history.
Trump, for his part, has expressed disdain for the traditional firewall between the White House’s political interests and the investigative powers of the Justice Department and the FBI. Comey told Congress in June that Trump pressured him to close down an investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national-security adviser, and asked the FBI director for his personal loyalty. One day after ousting Comey, Trump told top Russian officials that removing the director would help relieve pressure on him over the Russia investigation. (It did not.)