WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump's new FBI pick, Christopher A. Wray, sought to dispel any fears that he would be a so-called "lackey" for the Trump administration, telling lawmakers his loyalty was to "the Constitution and the rule of law."
"They have been my guideposts throughout my career, and I will continue to adhere to them no matter the test," the 50-year-old attorney told the U.S. Senate Wednesday during his confirmation hearing.
"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," he added.
Wray also promised to lead the FBI "without regard to any partisan political influence," adding that he would consider any attempt to tamper with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation to be "unacceptable and inappropriate and would need to be dealt with very sternly and appropriately indeed."
"I do not consider (former FBI) Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt," he told lawmakers.
Wray, a former top official in the George W. Bush administration's Justice Department, made the comments in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Lawmakers will look into his legal career and any other ties Wray may have to the White House. Both Democrats and Republicans want assurance of his ability to remain independent from the Oval Office.
Wray on the Hot Seat
In that vein, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., pressed Wray regarding the controversy surrounding Donald Trump, Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin.
"If I got a call from somebody saying the Russian government wants to help Lindsey Graham get reelected, they've got dirt on Lindsey Graham's opponent, should I take that meeting?" the South Carolina lawmaker asked.
"I would think you would want to consult with some good legal advisers before you did that," Wray replied.
"You're going to be the director of the FBI, pal," Graham shot back. "So, here's what I want you to tell every politician. If you get a call from somebody suggesting that a foreign government wants to help you, by disparaging your opponent, tell us all to call the FBI."
"To the members of this committee any threat or effort to interfere with our election from any election state is the kind of thing the FBI would like to know," Wray said.
"Do you believe the Russians did it when it came to the hacking of the DNC and emails?" Graham pressed.
"I have no reason to doubt the Intelligence Committee," Wray said.
A Man of Steady Character
Wednesday's proceedings provided the first public, close-up look at the man tapped to lead the nation's top law enforcement agency.
The Yale graduate, who has extensive experience working with the Justice Department and crafting national security policy, has been described by both mentors and colleagues as a man of steady character.
"Chris is exactly the person both the country and the FBI need at this time in our history," KBIA quoted Michael Luttig, a former federal appeals court judge who hired Wray as a law clerk. "Chris is fiercely independent; he is a man of unquestioned integrity, and he has impeccable judgment."
Meanwhile, the FBI Agents Association has made it clear it supports Wray's nomination.
"He understands the nature of investigative work and the centrality of special agents to the mission of the FBI," noted the association's president, Thomas O'Connor.
Bill Mateja, a Dallas attorney who worked with Wray in the Justice Department, predicts "smooth sailing" for Wray's confirmation.
"Chris is a Republican but he doesn't wear his politics on his sleeve. He keeps things close to his vest," Mateja said in a statement. "The public can rest easy that Chris will not be a lackey for Trump."
If confirmed, Wray will take the position most recently held by James Comey whom Trump fired in May.