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Trump's FBI Pick Says His Loyalty Is To The Constitution And Rule Of Law

Updated at 3:56 p.m. ET

Christopher Wray, President Trump's nominee to lead the FBI, stressed his independence Wednesday, saying that his loyalty is to the Constitution and the rule of law and vowing 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. Period."

Wray made his pledge of loyalty to the Constitution and to the law more generally in prepared testimony published online just as his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee was getting underway.

Wray also told senators that he understood that the job of FBI director was not "for the faint of heart" and assured lawmakers that he was not.

He said anybody who thinks he would be pulling punches as FBI director "sure doesn't know me very well."

The 50-year-old former Justice Department lawyer was nominated by Trump after the president fired James Comey in May. Comey had been overseeing the FBI's investigation of Russian meddling in last year's presidential election and possible ties between some top aides of the Trump campaign and Russia. Wray faced several questions from senators that have arisen in the wake of Comey's dismissal and the controversy it generated.

Wray told the panel that he has "no reason to doubt the conclusions of the intelligence community" that Russia was behind the hacking of the election.

Wray was asked about emails released by the president's son Donald Trump Jr. detailing a meeting he had with a Russian lawyer who he thought was offering opposition research into Hillary Clinton's campaign on behalf of the Russian government. Wray said he had been busy meeting with senators about his nomination and had not read the media reports.

But he was pressed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "You're going to be the director of the FBI, pal," Graham said, "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."

Wray responded that "any threat or effort to interfere with our election from any nation state or any nonstate actor is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know."

Asked about his support for the FBI investigation now being led by special counsel (and former FBI director) Robert Mueller, Wray said he was "very committed to supporting Director Mueller in the special counsel investigation in whatever way is appropriate for me to do that." Wray added that he would consider any effort to tamper with Mueller's investigation "unacceptable and inappropriate" and said it would need to be dealt with "very sternly."

Wray also said he did not believe Mueller's investigation to be "a witch hunt," as Trump has said more than once on Twitter.

Wray told Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., that no one had asked him for "any kind loyalty oath at any point in the process, and I sure as heck didn't offer one."

Asked by Leahy what he would do if asked by the president to do something illegal, Wray responded, "First, I would try to talk him out of it, and if that failed, I would resign."

While Wray praised former FBI Director Comey at moments during the hearing, he also offered some implied criticism of Comey for his public comments on the investigation into Clinton's private email server. Wray said he can't imagine a situation where, as FBI director, he "would be giving a press conference on an uncharged individual, much less talking in detail about it."

Wray said that he didn't know why Trump fired Comey and that discussion of the former FBI director did not come up during the two meetings he had with Trump prior to his being offered the top FBI post.

Wray was asked about his involvement with the "torture memos" during the George W. Bush administration while he was a senior Justice Department lawyer. He said he had no recollection of approving memos written at the department during that period.

Former Justice Department official John Yoo, who wrote a memo saying that such interrogation techniques were legal, has testified that Wray was among the top officials at the Justice Department who would have seen the memos.

Wray said his view is that "torture is wrong, it's unacceptable, it's illegal and I think it's ineffective."

He said he did recall the department investigating and successfully prosecuting a CIA contractor who had "gone overboard" while interrogating an Afghan detainee, who later died.

Senators on the judiciary panel gave Wray a mostly friendly reception. "I'm looking around and feeling that you had a good hearing today," said Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told Wray he had had a "very nice life" outside of government and public service. "This is going to be an interesting life," Hatch added, suggesting Wray's likely confirmation by the full Senate, "but I'm not sure it's going to be a nice life."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has said he hopes to have Wray confirmed by the Senate's August recess.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.