With just more than 24 hours to go before James Comey's highly anticipated congressional testimony, Donald Trump has found someone willing to replace the deposed Comey as director of the FBI: a former Justice Department official named Christopher Wray.
Wray was a federal prosecutor in Georgia before joining the Justice Department in 2001 under the George W. Bush administration. From 2003 to 2005, he served as the head of the agency’s Criminal Division.
By all measures, he is a much more traditional choice for FBI director than some of the other individuals Trump has reportedly considered for the job since firing Comey on May 9. The list of possible nominees has, at various points, included former Sen. Joseph Lieberman and current Sen. John Cornyn. Both men would have been extremely unusual picks because, contrary to Trump’s apparent instincts, the FBI is supposed to be an apolitical institution.
Both Lieberman and Cornyn withdrew their names from consideration, contributing to a sense that the Trump administration was having a hard time finding a replacement for Comey, as the job of FBI director under Donald Trump seems like a thankless and potentially career-destroying one.
On Twitter, former Justice Department officials offered cautious approval for Wray’s nomination. Matthew Miller, who served as a spokesman for the Obama DOJ and has been a vocal critic of the Trump administration, wrote that Wray is “probably the best choice from the WH short list” and called him a “serious, respectable pick.” Jack Goldsmith, who led the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel when Wray was head of the Criminal Division, called Wray “smart, serious, and professional” on the Lawfare blog. “He doesn’t have quite the range of experiences that his two predecessors did. But he has deep experience with federal criminal law and the FBI,” Goldsmith wrote. “I think Trump’s firing of James Comey was a travesty. But Wray is a good choice, a much better choice than any name I previously saw floated, and a much better choice than I expected Trump to make.”
Wray, who was Chris Christie's personal lawyer during Bridgegate, is currently a partner at the law firm King & Spalding, where he chairs the special matters and government investigations practice group.* According to his bio, he “represents companies, audit and special committees, and individuals in a variety of white-collar criminal and regulatory enforcement matters.”
Trump's announcement that he'd made Wray his pick, which came in a Wednesday morning Twitter post, arrived as Washington prepared for several days of high-stakes public hearings in the Senate regarding Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
Among the officials who will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday is Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who spoke to Trump about his decision to fire Comey before that decision was made public, and who later appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation. Comey himself will testify on Thursday.
*Correction, June 7, 2017: This post originally misspelled the name of Christopher Wray’s law firm. It is King & Spalding, not Spaulding.