LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:
This week, President Trump's pick to lead the FBI will get a confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill. Christopher Wray is a former Justice Department official. When he appears before the Senate judiciary committee Wednesday, he'll have to navigate questions about his history in law enforcement and his independence from the White House. With us to talk more about the FBI nominee is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hi, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi there.
SINGH: Who is Christopher Wray?
JOHNSON: Well, President Trump announced his choice in a surprise tweet last month. Trump says Chris Wray is a man of impeccable credentials. Wray played a big, if understated, role in the George W. Bush Justice Department. He was a top aide to the deputy attorney general, kind of ran the show and made sure the trains ran on time. Then later, he was confirmed by the Senate to lead the criminal division at Justice, where he supervised some major corporate fraud prosecutions, including Enron-related cases.
SINGH: The Senate unanimously confirmed Wray as an assistant attorney general back in 2003. This time, his path to lead the FBI won't be easy or as easy, right?
JOHNSON: Absolutely. But that says more about this White House than it does about Christopher Wray. Since President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey with seven years left to go on his 10-year term, there are some big concerns about the reason Comey was dismissed. Was it because of the Russia investigation or, as Trump says, grandstanding by Comey over the Hillary Clinton email probe?
Senators from both political parties want to be sure that Chris Wray will not cave in to pressure from the White House. And they want to get Wray to pledge his full support for the investigation into Russian interference in last year's presidential election too.
SINGH: Carrie, you've been talking Wray's friends and his former colleagues as well. What do they say about his independence?
JOHNSON: Well, they say Chris Wray is a really straight-laced guy. He operates under the radar. They think he will do the right thing. His family is full of lawyers. The whole Justice Department is in his blood. Although, there are a couple of controversial things in his background. Working at Justice after the 9/11 attacks, Wray was involved in some roundups of people inside the U.S. and had some knowledge of abusive interrogations of detainees.
And then since he's been out of government in private legal practice, Chris Wray represented New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the Bridgegate scandal. Chris Christie, of course, was not charged with a crime, but Wray as his defense lawyer held on to Christie's cellphone, protecting his client. Some Democrats have lots of questions about that, though.
SINGH: The FBI has been without a permanent leader for a couple of months now. How soon might Wray be confirmed?
JOHNSON: Well, Senator Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican who leads the judiciary committee, says he wants a full Senate vote on Chris Wray before the August recess. Now, that seems quick to veterans of the process, especially if Democrats want to put a hold on the nomination in exchange for something else like demanding more information from the White House or the Justice Department on its interactions with Russia, for instance.
Meanwhile, morale at the FBI is pretty low right now. Former Director Comey was a very popular guy. There are some news reports that on the FBI family day recently, some employees wore T-shirts that said Comey is my homie. Now, Chris Wray worked with James Comey. They like each other. And Wray, if he's confirmed, could help calm the waters if he's able to insulate the FBI from White House pressure.
SINGH: NPR's Carrie Johnson. Thanks, Carrie.
JOHNSON: You're welcome.
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