US senate confirms Christopher Wray as new FBI director

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies on Capitol Hill. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP)
FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies on Capitol Hill. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP)

The US senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly confirmed Christopher Wray to lead the FBI, replacing James Comey, who was abruptly fired by US President Donald Trump amid the investigation into Russian meddling in last year's presidential election.

The vote was 92-5 for Wray, a former high-ranking official in President George W. Bush's Justice Department who oversaw investigations into corporate fraud. Wray, 50, inherits the FBI at a particularly challenging time given Trump's ousting of Comey, who was admired within the bureau.

"This is a tough time to take this tough job," Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said during a relatively low-key Senate debate of the nomination. "The previous FBI director, as we know, was fired because of the Russia investigation. The former acting attorney general was fired. And we've had a slew of other firings throughout the government over the last few months."

READ MORE: Donald Trump and James Comey - A timeline

Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska said after the vote, "Chris Wray will bring character and competence to a city that is hemorrhaging public trust."

Wray won unanimous support from the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, with Republicans and Democrats praising his promise never to let politics get in the way of the bureau's mission.

Asserting his independence at his confirmation hearing, Wray said: "My loyalty is to the constitution and the rule of law. Those have been my guideposts throughout my career, and I will continue to adhere to them no matter the test."

Al Jazeera's Heidi Zhou-Castro, reporting from Washington DC, said Wray told senators during his confirmation hearing last month that if he were asked for a loyalty pledge from Trump - as Comey was - he would refuse and would rather quit than drop any investigation under pressure.

"Wray is seen as a person who likes to stay away from drama. He has a reputation for a low-key demeanour and his nomination by Trump was seen as a safe and mainstream and non-partisan choice for this position," she said.

'We need leaders with steel spines'

Trump roiled Washington on May 9 by firing Comey in the midst of his 10-year term as the FBI chief and as the law enforcement agency was investigating Russia's role in the election and possible collusion with Trump campaign officials.

Andrew McCabe has served as acting FBI director during the nearly three-month interim period.

Wray has worked on white-collar crime and regulatory cases as a partner at the King & Spalding law firm.

From May 2001 to May 2005, he held various high-ranking positions in the Justice Department, rising to the head of the criminal division in September 2003. He also served as principal associate deputy attorney general.

He was a federal prosecutor in the US attorney's office for the Northern District of Georgia from May 1997 to May 2001. Wray had represented New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the so-called Bridgegate scandal.

Wray is a graduate of Yale University, where he also received his law degree in 1992.

"Mr. Wray possesses the skill, the character and the unwavering commitment to impartial enforcement of the law that we need in a FBI director," said Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

The top Democrat on the panel, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, said Wray "has the strength and fortitude to stand up and do what it is right when tested."

She added, "We need leaders with steel spines, not weak knees, and I am hopeful that Mr. Wray will be just such a leader."

Commenting on the vote, Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said: "Today's bipartisan show of support is indicative of Wray's professionalism and commitment to independence. I have no doubt the FBI is in good hands with Mr. Wray at the helm."

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