And Senate Democrats seemed enchanted.
Wray is set to fill the spot that Trump unceremoniously vacated when he fired James Comey back in May. And the #Resist movement won’t likely be an issue. Wray’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing felt almost routine – no protesters, no interruptions, and hardly even any particularly hostile questions.
Wray – a Justice Department official before joining mega-firm King & Spalding – spent the day doing what lawyers do best: not answering questions. The committee’s senators asked him to make a host of commitments: to tell them if the White House tried to pressure him, to tell them if Team Trump tried to defund Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s Russia probe, to testify before the committee if Trump fired him for political reasons, and on and on. Wray was imminently unflappable and deftly noncommittal.
“Will you commit to report to this committee any attempts to deny him and that investigation resources or other support that are needed by others in the administration?” asked Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, of the Mueller probe.
“Senator, if there was an inappropriate request to deny him appropriate resources, I would try to evaluate the circumstances, then take appropriate action,” Wray replied.
“Will you be making records of your conversations, as Jim Comey did, as you recall, Director Comey contemporaneously made memoranda to reflect his conversations with the president and others, would you do the same?” Blumenthal followed up.
“I think it would depend on the situation, Senator,” Wray said. “I can commit that I would be listening very heavily to any conversation I had with anybody of consequence. To me, that’s the most important thing.”
And, Blumenthal continued, if the president asked him to make a loyalty pledge or shut down an investigation or go easy on someone, you would memorialize that conversation and tell the committee about it – right?
“A conversation like that is something that I would take very seriously and want to make sure that all the right people knew,” he replied.
The only genuinely tense moment of the hearing came when Republican Lindsey Graham – who was open about his plans to vote for Wray – grilled the nominee about Russia. The South Carolina Republican hawk worked hard to get Wray to say that people should call the FBI if someone from a foreign government offers them intelligence on fellow Americans.
The context, of course, was the biggest news story of the last four days: the fact that the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer in hopes of getting information that would damage Hillary Clinton. Wray told Graham he was unfamiliar with the details, and said multiple times that he had not read any of the newspaper coverage of the development because he was so busy getting ready for his hearing.
So Graham gamely read him one of the emails that Don Jr. himself tweeted, an email where a music publicist told the would-be president’s son that the Russian government was looking to give him research that would hurt Clinton.
“Should Donald Trump Jr. have taken that meeting?” Graham asked.
“Well, Senator, I don’t – I, I, I’m hearing for the first your description of it so I’m not really in a position to speak to it, I gather that special counsel Mueller will –,” Wray began.
Graham cut him off.
“Well, let me ask you this,” he said in his South Carolina drawl. “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?”
“Well, Senator, I would think you’d want to consult with some good legal advisors before you did that,” he said.
“So the answer is, should I call the FBI?” Graham retorted.
“I think it would be wise to let the FBI know,” Wray replied.
Graham seemed frustrated.
“You’re going to be the director of the FBI, pal!” he said, raising his voice. “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 paused again.
“To the members of this committee,” Wray said slowly, “any threat or effort to interfere with our elections from any nation-state or any non-state actor is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know.”
“Alright, Graham said. “So I’ll take it that we should call you. And that’s a great answer.”
That said, on certain issues, Wray was completely unequivocal. When Feinstein asked him at the start of the hearing for his thoughts on torture, he was as clear as day.
“My view is that torture is wrong, it’s unacceptable, it’s illegal and I think it’s ineffective,” he said.
“Good beginning!” she replied.
Wray said he also had no memory of signing off on Justice Department memos making the legal case for enhanced interrogation techniques, and that he was “very proud” of prosecuting a CIA contractor for abusing a detainee who died shortly after being injured. He also said he had “no reason whatsoever” to doubt the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the U.S. election, and that Mueller’s probe wasn’t a witch hunt.
In a later exchange with Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, Wray again demonstrated his artful-dodger skills.
“Will you commit today that any White House direction that you would curtail or end an investigation is something you would report back to this committee in the Senate?” the Nebraskan asked.
Wray didn’t commit.
“I would certainly report it wherever is appropriate,” Wray replied. “I would need to make sure that I was compliant with all my legal obligations in doing so but if I can appropriately do it I would want to make sure I can bring it to the appropriate committee’s attention in an appropriate way.”
None of this seemed to concern Democrats on the committee. Before the hearing was even concluded, Feinstein – its most powerful Democrat – told reporters she would back Wray. And Blumenthal, formerly the U.S. Attorney for Connecticut, said he was strongly leaning that way as well. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, opened her questioning of the nominee by noting that their daughters are friends.
So, against all odds, the saga that Trump triggered by firing Comey for investigating him ended not with a bang but with, well, a verbal hug from none other than Al Franken.
“This is under very extraordinary circumstances, and I thank you for your willingness to take on this job,” Franken, often a bulldog, told him. “And looking around, I’m feeling that you’ve had a good hearing today, and best of luck to you.”