Christopher Wray came before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday for his confirmation hearing, where, despite being short on answers, he received high praise from Democrats.
President Trump’s pick to head the FBI told Senators that he was completely unaware of recent press reports about Donald Trump Jr.’s suspicious meeting with a Russian lawyer last summer. He also said he didn’t recall approving any torture memos while serving in the Bush Justice Department — contradicting prior testimony from a former DOJ lawyer.
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Wray was also hardly pressed on the conflicts of interest he acquired after spending the previous decade working as a corporate lawyer.
The ranking Democrat on the panel, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), told reporters after the hearing, however, that she was going to approve Wray’s nomination.
“I’ll be very candid with you, I’m going to vote ‘yes,'” she said. “I see him as being a good FBI director.”
During her questioning, Feinstein tried to pin Wray down on what role he may have played in approving the post-9/11 illegal torture program. She referenced 2008 testimony from John Yoo, a former DOJ attorney and author of legal memos justifying torture.
Yoo had claimed that Wray played a hand in green-lighting the abuse. He said that Wray, working as the Deputy Attorney General’s senior advisor at the time, would have reviewed the 2002 and 2003 torture memos.
“To my recollection, I never reviewed, much less provided comments on or input on, and much less approved, any memo from John Yoo on this topic,” Wray told Sen. Feinstein.
Acknowledging that his memory doesn’t correspond with Yoo’s prior testimony, Wray said: “I can only tell this committee that I have no recollection whatsoever of that, and it’s the kind of thing I think I’d remember.”
Wray did express to Senators his current posture on torture. “My view is that torture is wrong, it’s unacceptable. It’s illegal, and I think it’s ineffective.”
One of the more unbelievable moments of the hearing occurred when Wray claimed that he was completely unaware of recent press reports about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer in a reported bid by the Kremlin to assist the Trump campaign last year — a story that has received front page attention and wall-to-wall coverage across the country.
When asked about the matter by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Wray pleaded ignorance.
“I’ve heard that there is an issue,” Wray claimed. “I’m hearing for the first time your description of this.”
Ahead of the confirmation proceedings, the Office of Government Ethics released on Monday Wray’s ethics agreement and financial disclosures. For one year after confirmation, Wray promised to recuse himself from investigations involving his former clients, and clients of the powerful law firm where he’s currently employed: King & Spaulding.
No Senators on the panel appeared concerned at how those potential conflicts of interest may hinder Wray’s ability to head the bureau. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) did submit a question for the record about Wray’s firm previously represeting Russian companies.
Wray did offer straight answers to Senators’ most simple questions — but ones that needed to be asked given how the last FBI Director James Comey was fired, after not promising loyalty to President Trump.
“My loyalty is to the constitution, to the rule of law, and to the FBI,” Wray said. “Nobody asked for any kind of loyalty oath and I sure didn’t offer one.”
Sen. Feinstein wasn’t the only Democrat on the panel giving Wray praise.
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said he was “impressed” with Wray’s testimony on Wednesday.
“Looking around, I’m feeling like you’ve had a good hearing today,” Sen. Franken told the nominee. “Best of luck to you.”