President Donald Trump proclaimed his new choice for FBI director on Twitter this morning, calling Christoper A. Wray “a man of impeccable credentials.” Compared to some of the other reported candidates he considered for the post, among them several current or former politicians who would have smashed through the tradition of an apolitical FBI, we suppose that might be true. Mr. Wray has a long career at the Department of Justice on his resume (though not at the FBI itself). But we remain less than reassured. It’s not just that Mr. Wray has long been close to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has himself wavered in and out of Mr. Trump’s inner circle. It’s that the appointment comes alongside a swirl of revelations reinforcing the concern that Mr. Trump possesses not even the barest respect for the independence of the American judicial system.
Washington is gearing up for a must-see-TV event tomorrow when former FBI director James Comey testifies before Congress, though much of the suspense was removed this afternoon with the release of his prepared testimony.
It confirms that he told the president on multiple occasions that the bureau didn’t have an open investigation into him personally and that the president repeatedly pressured him to make public statements to that effect. It also confirms various other reports about their highly unusual interactions, including Mr. Trump’s efforts to extract a loyalty pledge from Mr. Comey. But it doesn’t fundamentally add anything new to the story.
Instead, the Washington Post’s report that Mr. Trump asked Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to get the FBI to back off its investigation into fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn takes center stage in the drama. The reason it’s so important is that it came a month after the president reportedly urged Mr. Comey to do the same and a few days before the president fired his FBI director — an action he admits was . A key question in evaluating the seriousness of Mr. Trump’s actions is whether his request to Mr. Comey was simply a matter of sticking up for a friend or an actual attempt to obstruct justice. We’re still far from a conclusive answer to that, but the fact that the president made the request of two senior officials on separate occasions over the span of weeks is concerning, to say the least. Mr. Coats testified in an unrelated Senate hearing today but declined to answer a question about the Post’s report in a public session.
The notion that Mr. Trump doesn’t have any use for independence in law enforcement is, evidently, shared by none other than Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
ABC News reported Tuesday night that Mr. Sessions had offered to resign after repeated private (and to some degree, public) criticism from Mr. Trump. According to a story in The New York Times, Mr. Sessions said he needed “the freedom to do his job.” Both accounts reiterate previous reporting that Mr. Trump was furious at Mr. Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the investigation into possible collusion between Russia and members of the Trump campaign — a decision he made without the approval, or even foreknowledge, of the president. Mr. Trump made his disapproval clear at the time, saying he did not believe recusal was necessary. It was in the immediate aftermath of that decision that Mr. Trump engaged in his grand subject-changing gesture of tweeting wild accusations that former President Barack Obama had ordered a wiretap on him during the campaign, but it is now clear that he never dropped the matter, which led to Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein taking over the investigation and, eventually, appointing a special counsel to run it. In recent days, the president’s rebukes of the Justice Department have gone from private to public with a series of tweets criticizing its handling of his travel ban on citizens of several Muslim nations (which simultaneously undermined his own attorneys’ legal arguments).
All that leads back to Mr. Wray. We know Mr. Trump repeatedly asked Mr. Comey for his loyalty, not satisfied with a promise of honesty. Has he demanded the same of his new FBI director? We know that Mr. Trump has pressed several officials to publicly downplay the possibility of Trump-Russia ties and at least two of them to drop the investigation. Has he done the same to Mr. Wray? For all the intrigue surrounding the Senate’s questions for Mr. Trump’s ex-FBI director, the more consequential ones may come for his nominee.