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Senate committee approves Chris Wray as next FBI director

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Atlanta attorney Chris Wray to be the next head of the FBI.

The next step is a vote by the full Senate, which could come before Congress breaks in mid-August.

“I expect that Wray will receive very strong support from the full Senate just as he did in the SJC, mainly because, as committee members said, he is very qualified and promised to be independent,” said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.

Wray was a federal prosecutor in Atlanta and headed the criminal division of the Justice Department during President George W. Bush’s administration before he went into the private sector.

During his confirmation hearing last week, Wray vowed to remain independent of political pressures. Yet his vote Thursday came amid increased vitriol between President Donald Trump and his attorney general, assistant attorney general and the acting director of the FBI, as well as the former FBI director and the special counsel appointed to investigate Russia’s meddling in last year’s election.

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“Wray may be assuming a very difficult position, but he promised to restore public confidence in the FBI, to strongly support all efforts of FBI staff to keep America safe, to support the special counsel probe and to protect FBI independence,” Tobias said. “Those are tall orders, but (Judiciary Committee) members believed Wray has the ability and fortitude to succeed.”

Before the committee voted, Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Wray “has the right view of the job.”

“During his hearing,” Grassley said, “he spoke of the work the FBI does with deep respect and praised the efforts of the FBI in keeping Americans safe.

“And he told us where his loyalties lie. He said that his loyalty ‘is to the Constitution and the rule of law.’ ”

Wray is a partner with the Atlanta-based law firm King & Spalding, but he also spent much of his career with the U.S. Department of Justice where, at times, he worked closely with two men now at the receiving end of the president’s wrath, fired FBI Director James Comey and special counsel Robert Mueller. Comey was fired because of the then-new investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election, and Mueller was brought in as special counsel after his firing.

Despite the support of Democrats in the Senate, the liberal group CREDO complained, saying the Senate should hold off on voting on an FBI director until the Russia investigation is complete.

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