The FBI has its successor to James Comey. On Tuesday, the Senate voted 92–5 to confirm the 50-year-old Christopher Wray, who will assume the role of FBI director a little less than three months after his predecessor was abruptly fired by Donald Trump as part of an effort to shut down the bureau’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s dalliances with Russia. In his new role, Wray will be responsible for shielding the agency from improper White House influence.
Wray is said to enjoy broad support among career employees of the FBI, most of whom seem to believe that he is serious about protecting the agency’s independence. One person who isn’t so sure about how this is all supposed to work: Donald Trump, who told the New York Times last month that “the FBI person really reports directly to the president of the United States, which is interesting.”
Trump then added, in reference to Wray, “I think we’re going to have a great new FBI director.”
Now that he has been confirmed, Wray might want to have a conversation with the president about what exactly “great” means in this context. He also might think about clarifying for him that, actually, the FBI director reports directly to the attorney general—in this case, the “beleaguered” Jeff Sessions—rather than the president. While it’s true, as Comey can attest, that the president can fire the FBI director at any time for any reason, on a day-to-day basis they’re supposed to operate independently from one another.
During his confirmation hearing last month, Wray told senators that “no one should mistake [his] low-key demeanor for a lack of resolve ... or willingness to compromise on principle.” He also said: “My commitment is to the rule of law, to the Constitution, to follow the facts wherever they may lead. And there isn't a person on this planet whose lobbying or influence could convince to just drop or abandon a properly predicated and meritorious investigation.”
Trump made his comment to the Times in an interview about two weeks later, suggesting he either missed Wray’s testimony or figured his nominee was just telling the Senate Judiciary Committee what it wanted to hear. If he was being sincere, Wray should make sure the president knows it, and soon.