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Trump's pick for FBI director said the Russia investigation is not a 'witch hunt'

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Updated July 12, 2017 01:42 PM EDT

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) asked whether Wray believed that the emails posted by Donald Trump Jr. regarding his meeting with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton prove he committed any crime.

Wray said that between meeting with all of the senators on the committee in the last day, he hadn’t had time to actually read and review the emails.

Updated July 12, 2017 01:18 PM EDT

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NB) asked Wray what his first 90 or 100 days as FBI director would look like. Wray said he would want to sit down with senior management members at the bureau, and that he would following the bureau's current priorities.

Wray also said that the learning curve for his new position would likely be steep given that he would not only need to familiarize himself with management and priorities, but also rapid advances in technology.

Updated July 12, 2017 10:34 AM EDT

Watch the first part Christopher Wray's confirmation hearing.

Updated July 12, 2017 01:03 PM EDT
FBI RESIGN UNLAWFUL REQ

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) said that he didn’t believe it was appropriate for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ to be involved with any investigation involving the Trump campaign. Coons asked Wray if he would commit to examining the scope of Sessions’ recusal in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Wray responded by saying that he wasn’t really the person to examine that, adding that he believed that Mueller would have all the material necessary to investigate all facets of Russia's meddling.

Coons also brought up the firing of former Attorney General Sally Yates. He asked Wray whether he would show up to testify before Congress if he was fired for refusing to do something he believed was unlawful. Wray said that he would do so if it were within the scope of the law and the rules.

Updated July 12, 2017 12:29 PM EDT

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) trod on familiar ground when he asked Wray whether he thought former FBI director James Comey was a "nut job."

“That’s never been my experience with him,” Wray replied.

Franken then asked Wray what he would do if the president asked him to cease an investigation into someone. Wray said he would have to have a conversation about what was appropriate.

Updated July 12, 2017 12:18 PM EDT

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) asked Wray about Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or going dark, and the use of FISA courts.

Wray responded by saying that he had left the government before 702 had been passed. But Wray also said that he had no reason to doubt the intelligence community’s assessment of 702’s vital role in protecting the country.

Tillis then switched his focus to Russia, saying that he didn’t think there was anyone in congress who didn’t think that Russia meddled in elections.

He asked Wray what the FBI would do, aside from Mueller’s investigation, regarding Russia’s involvement in hacking the 2016 election.

Wray responded, saying that he needed to read in on the issue more before making a decision, but did say that the FBI does have a counterintelligence function, and that he would allow the FBI to fulfill that function.

Updated July 12, 2017 11:46 AM EDT

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked Wray about the bush administration’s mass wiretapping, citing a famous confrontation between the Department of Justice and the White House where a group from the DOJ said they would resign if the program was not suspended.

Wray said that he was, in fact, a part of that group and that he had no hesitation that he would have resigned if it had come to that.

Finally, Whitehouse asked Wray about where to draw the line between Congress’s oversight responsibilities and the FBI’s ability to remain independent.

Wray said that he believed that Congress’s role was important, but was interrupted when Whitehouse’s time for questions ran out.

Updated July 12, 2017 11:38 AM EDT

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) asked Wray why he believed there needed to be a division between the FBI and the Justice Department on whether or not to prosecute a case.

“Is it a check on the abuse of power?” asked Cornyn.

Wray answered by saying that he believed that someone who was investigating a case should not be the one to prosecute it, because it was a few steps away from being “judge, jury, and executioner.”

Updated July 12, 2017 11:33 AM EDT

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) asked Wray what he would do if he were offered a completely private meeting with the president. Wray said that there are policies on such contacts, but that he would think it would be highly unusual for there to be any one-on-one meeting between the FBI director and the president.

Durbin asked Wray whether he would ever take such a meeting. Wray said he might, under the correct circumstances, but it would be highly unlikely. He said such a relationship must be “a professional one, not a social one.”

“We’re dealing with an extraordinary situation, where a man you respect was a called a 'nut job' and fired,” said Durbin.

Durbin drew attention to President Trump’s statement that he might work with Russia on cybersecurity. Durbin asked Wray what his reaction would be to such a partnership. Wray said he would need to learn more on the subject, but that he wouldn’t want to put the U.S. at greater risk.

On Russia, Wray said, “Any effort to interfere with our election systems, whether it’s from a state actor like Russia, or a non-state actor, is to be taken very seriously.”

Durbin then asked Wray about his opinion on the patriotism of Muslim Americans. Wray said he would be an FBI director for all Americans, citing President Bush’s speech at a mosque in which he said that America was not at war with Islam. Wray said that he thought that, at the time, such a speech was “a remarkably courageous and noble gesture.” He went on to point out that some of the best tips the FBI had ever received on potential threats had come from the Muslim-American community.

Updated July 12, 2017 11:14 AM EDT
BHDP_PO-83WE_GRAHAM_FBI DIR NOM EXCHANGE ON TRUMP JR MEETING_CNNA-ST1-1000000004135f26_175_0

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asked whether Wray was familiar with a Politico article about Ukrainian efforts to disparage Donald Trump and assist Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. Graham asked whether Wray would look into such allegations. Wray said he would.

Graham also brought up the issues surrounding Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer about potentially disparaging information about Hillary Clinton.

“Should Donald Trump Jr. have taken that meeting?” asked Graham.

Wray tried to give a non-answer, but Graham pressed him, finally saying that he believed that Wray should tell all politicians that any efforts by a foreign government to interfere in an election should result in a call to the FBI.

Continuing in a line of questioning about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting, Graham asked Wray whether Russia was a friend or an enemy. Wray responded by saying that Russia was a nation that we had to deal with very carefully.

Switching to Comey, Graham asked whether Wray would have given a press conferences on Clinton’s emails like Comey had. Wray said he couldn’t imagine a scenario in which he would give a press conference to speak about an uncharged individual.

Finally, Graham asked whether Wray believed Special Counsel Robert Mueller was on a witch hunt. Wray said he did not believe that was the case.

Updated July 12, 2017 11:01 AM EDT
FBI LOYALTY OATH

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) addressed the elephant in the room, saying he was troubled by Donald Trump Jr.'s “love” for potentially damaging information on a political opponent provided by a foreign government.

Leahy asked Wray if he had taken a loyalty oath. Wray said he had not.

Leahy also asked Wray what he would do if the president asked him to do something unlawful. Wray said that he would try and talk the president out of it, but that if he could not, he would resign.

Next, Leahy quoted the president’s explanation for why he had fired Comey, and asked Wray if he found that explanation to be troubling. Wray responded that was not aware of all the context surrounding the explanation, and that he did not have access to all the information that the president did.

Updated July 12, 2017 10:57 AM EDT

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) began by asking Wray about encryption. Hatch asked Wray about his views on mandating tech companies to build back doors into encrypted devices.

Wray said he didn’t know what the solution to such a problem was, but that he believed a solution needed to be found. He said he needed people to come together to search for an answer to the problem. Wray said the private sector needs to be involved in any decision-making process.

Hatch then turned to the issue of child predators. Hatch asked Wray if he would commit to sharing FBI background checks with youth-serving organizations to ensure that the organizations don't hire predators.

Wray said that he understood that the issue was incredibly important, highlighting past experiences he had with working on it.

Hatch also asked Wray about the handling of classified emails by Hillary Clinton. Wray responded by citing his time working in counterespionage. Wray said that most of the U.S.'s information about domestic risks came from allies around the world. The former assistant attorney general said that because it might cause allies to lose confidence in the U.S., such transgressions might need to be investigated.

Updated July 12, 2017 10:32 AM EDT
FBI TORTURE IS WRONG

One of Grassley’s first questions concerned whistleblowers and the special role they play at the FBI. Grassley said whistleblower cases that were prosecuted took between two and 10 years to resolve, and that the FBI rarely ever punished anyone for retaliating against whistleblowers. He wondered whether Wray would set a different tone during his time at the top of the bureau.

Wray said he believes retaliating against whistleblowers is wrong, adding that, “There is a form of accountability that comes from within, and oftentimes whistleblowers are an important part of that.”

Grassley thanked Wray for his words, but said he had heard other FBI directors say the same thing.

Updated July 12, 2017 10:22 AM EDT

Wray opened his confirmation hearing by speaking about his family, introducing them and expressing his gratitude for their support.

The former assistant attorney general said that he was humbled by the president’s nomination, and that it was a huge responsibility to be working with the men and women at the bureau, who he said accomplish a great deal while not caring about who gets credit.

Wray spoke about his past experiences with the FBI in combating issues like corruption, fraud and terrorism.

Echoing both Feinstein and Nunn, Wray emphasized his commitment to the constitution, saying that he would “…never allow the FBI’s work to be driven by anything other than the facts, the law, and the impartial pursuit of justice.

“My loyalty is to the Constitution and the rule of law,” said Wray.

Updated July 12, 2017 10:11 AM EDT

Former Sen. Sam Nun (D-GA) introduced Christopher Wray to the committee and described him as a rising star. Nunn also took the time to highlight certain portions of Wray's resume, spending particular time highlighting Wray’s efforts to restructure the DOJ after 9/11 to take on terrorism.

“I can ensure this committee that Chris embodies the same traits that allowed Griffin Bell to rebuild trust in the Department of justice,” said Nunn.

Nunn also seemingly attempted to answer one of Feinstein’s more prominent queries.

“Chris understands that the FBI and the Department of justice are loyal to the Constitution,” said Nunn.

Updated July 12, 2017 10:04 AM EDT
FBI COMEY

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, focused the beginning of her opening remarks on the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

“The reason Mr. Comey was dismissed was because he would not pledge his loyalty to the president,” said Feinstein.

Feinstein chose to emphasize the fact that the FBI director does not serve the president, but rather the Constitution. She went on to say that the next director of the FBI must be a moral person who understands that, pointing out that such a distinction was "not abstract."

Finally, Feinstein said that Wray's handling of the issue of torture would be crucial in determining whether or not he was ready for the job. She said she was interested in hearing about Wray's understanding of the Justice Department's reasoning for the use of torture under the Bush administration.

Updated July 12, 2017 09:51 AM EDT

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) made his opening remarks, spending a great deal of time highlighting Wray's qualifications for the position.

Interestingly, Grassley also spent some time in his opening remarks speaking about acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe's connections to Bill and Hillary Clinton, saying that it's possible McCabe should recuse himself from the investigations into former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russian election meddling.

Grassley also spoke about the FBI's efforts to resist accountability, saying that he and Wray had spoken about issues of transparency, and that he expected Wray to implement measures to ensure that requests for information were honored in a timely fashion.

Former Assistant Attorney General Christopher Wray is set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning at 9:30 a.m.

Wray was announced as Trump's pick to replace former FBI Director James Comey via Twitter on June 7.

Wray was nominated to the position of assistant attorney general in charge of the Criminal Division by President George W. Bush in 2003 and served until 2005. After serving at the Department of Justice, he returned to private practice.

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