WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he would nominate Christopher A. Wray — a white collar criminal defense attorney who led the Justice Department’s Criminal Division during the George W. Bush administration — to serve as the next FBI director.
Trump posted the announcement on Twitter, declaring Wray a “man of impeccable credentials” and saying more details would follow. His appointment still would have to be confirmed by the Senate, which is sure to scrutinize Trump’s nominee intensely.
Wray, now a partner at King & Spalding, led the Justice Department’s Criminal Division from 2003 to 2005, and his firm biography says that he “helped lead the Department’s efforts to address the wave of corporate fraud scandals and restore integrity to U.S. financial markets.” He oversaw the president’s corporate fraud task force and oversaw the Enron Task Force. Before that, he worked in a variety of other Justice Department roles, including as a federal prosecutor in Atlanta.
More recently, he has served as the attorney for New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a Trump ally.
Wray’s nomination will bring an end to a herky-jerky search that has seen several contenders take their own names out of the running. Top Justice Department officials initially held talks with eight candidates, and Trump said he could make a “fast decision” on whom to select because “almost all of them are very well known.”
None of those people, though, ultimately panned out, and Trump soon turned his focus to former senator and Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman. But Lieberman, too, withdrew from consideration because another lawyer at his firm was tapped to help Trump with the investigation into whether his campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 election.
Wray was one of two candidates Trump interviewed last week. The other was John S. Pistole, an FBI veteran and former Transportation Security Administration director who is now the president of Anderson University in Indiana.
If confirmed, Wray will succeed James B. Comey, whom Trump abruptly fired last month amid the Russia investigation. That probe is now being overseen by a special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller. Andrew McCabe, who had been deputy director, is leading the FBI on an interim basis.
Trump’s announcement on Wray comes the day before Comey is scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee in what will likely be one of the most closely watched congressional hearings of recent years. Comey has alleged in memos that, before Trump fired him, the president requested his FBI director pledge loyalty and urged him to back off his investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, people familiar with the memos have said.
The firing itself was an unusual move. FBI directors are generally appointed to 10-year terms so they can avoid political interference, and Trump himself has declared he was thinking of the Russia probe when he ousted his FBI director.
Legal analysts have said Comey’s removal — and his memos describing the talks before it — might be evidence of obstruction of justice. Comey is expected to offer more details about his conversations with the president at the hearing Thursday.
While Wray might not be the ultimate supervisor on the Russia probe, he could undoubtedly play a role in it — as FBI agents still are working on the case with Mueller.
Wray is no stranger to high-profile cases. According to a 2005 profile in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, he had to assess on his first day at the Justice Department how the FBI misplaced files in the trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. He also was involved in the response to the 9/11 terror attacks and helped coordinate the investigation in the D.C.-area snipers, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, though in an interview with the newspaper, he noted that his work was not all terror-related.
“I think a lot of people thought all the focus would be on terrorism and everything else would go into the ditch,” Wray said. “In fact, I think we’ve accomplished incredible things. I feel so fortunate to have had this job in this time.”
Wray did not immediately return phone and email messages seeking comment.