President Trump Nominates Christopher Wray As New FBI Director

Jun 7, 2017
Originally published on June 8, 2017 7:50 am
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We're going to learn more about the man President Trump will nominate to succeed James Comey. His name is Christopher Wray. Those who know him say he's more likely to stay behind the scenes than in front of the cameras. Some also wonder whether he'll be able to be fully independent of the White House. NPR's Joel Rose has this profile.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Christopher Wray was the youngest lawyer to head the criminal division at the Department of Justice since the Kennedy administration, and he oversaw some big corporate fraud cases including Enron and HealthSouth.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRISTOPHER WRAY: The magnitude of the alleged fraud is staggering. The indictment alleges...

ROSE: This is Wray announcing charges against HealthSouth CEO Bill Scrushy (ph) at a press conference in 2003.

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WRAY: If a corporate fraud is perpetrated on your watch, you will be thoroughly investigated. And if the evidence shows that you participated in the fraud, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

ROSE: But if you're looking for more examples of Wray in the media spotlight, well, there aren't many. His former colleagues and friends describe a lawyer who prefers to work behind the scenes. Alice Fisher is a partner at the firm Latham and Watkins who served with Wray at the Justice Department in the early 2000s.

ALICE FISHER: What's foremost in my mind when I think about Chris is the day of 9/11 and the many, many days and months after that where he was working around the clock. And it was there that I saw his commitment, his focus, his sense of mission.

ROSE: Christopher Wray was born in New York. He went to Yale for college and law school. He rose quickly through the ranks at the Justice Department to lead the criminal division. Bill Mateja, now a white-collar defense lawyer in Dallas, worked for Wray at the DOJ. I asked him if his old boss is ready to head the FBI.

BILL MATEJA: You know, Chris is not going to be a wallflower. He's got a great moral compass. And quite frankly, if President Trump was trying to pick a minion, he picked the wrong guy.

ROSE: The job of FBI director is open because President Trump fired the previous director, James Comey, last month. Trump described Comey as a showboat. As we heard, Comey is set to tell his side of the story before the Senate tomorrow when he's expected to say the president asked him for his loyalty. That alleged request is a major red flag for Faiz Shakir with the ACLU in Washington.

FAIZ SHAKIR: At this time, it is so critical that given what we know about Donald Trump's behavior, that an FBI director has to have extraordinary levels of courage, extraordinary levels of independence, a stiff backbone to be able to stand up to a president we know is going to put pressure on his nominees.

ROSE: The ACLU has also raised concerns about potential conflicts from Wray's work as a private sector lawyer. His firm, King & Spalding, has done ethics work for the Trump organization. And Wray himself has represented New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who briefly headed the Trump administration's transition team. But some of the president's harshest critics are praising this nomination.

NORM EISEN: I think the Wray pick is a good one. He has a outstanding reputation. He has a demonstrated reputation for independence.

ROSE: Norm Eisen is a fellow at the Brookings Institution, a center-left think tank in Washington. He went up against Wray in court when Eisen was a defense lawyer for Enron and Wray was at the Department of Justice. Eisen thinks Wray is a good choice because he does not seek out the spotlight.

EISEN: It's important for the next FBI director to have a more modulated public profile and to focus more on the traditional role of the FBI.

ROSE: A good place to start, Eisen says, would be winning the trust of the bureau's 35,000 men and women. Joel Rose, NPR News.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this report, the former CEO of HealthSouth is referred to as Bill Scrushy. In fact, his name is Richard Scrushy.]

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