Opinion: ‘ ... summer soldiers and sunshine patriots’

Christopher Wray is a Republican attorney and former federal prosecutor from Georgia. Under President George W. Bush, he served as head of the criminal division in the U.S. Department of Justice, and over the years he has contributed more than $50,000 to Republican political candidates.

Last year, Wray resigned as a partner at King & Spalding to take on a new job as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, replacing the fired James Comey. President Trump, who named Wray to that job, lauded him at the time as “an impeccably qualified individual, and I know that he will again serve his country as a fierce guardian of the law and model of integrity.”

Today, that “fierce guardian of the law and model of integrity” is engaged in a public battle against the very president who appointed him, and in some ways against the party that had claimed his loyalty. The focus of that battle is a highly controversial “memo” drafted in secret by a cabal of House Republicans, supposedly based on highly classified material, that attempts to undermine and discredit the investigation into Russian meddling and into any role that Trump’s campaign might have played.

Wray is not alone. Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd -- an Alabama Republican, a former congressional staffer for hard-core conservatives Jeff Sessions and Martha Robey and also a Trump political appointee -- has written to House Republicans that release of the memo would be “extraordinarily reckless.” In addition, Wray has personally gone to the White House to plead against its release, warning it could result in the release of highly damaging classified material.

After Trump and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly both indicated that they intend to release it anyway, Wray refused to fall silent.

Instead, at Wray’s direction, the FBI released a rare public statement,  again opposing public release of the memo and expressing what it called “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.” It is, in short, a lie. 

Neither Wray nor Boyd played any role in the actions covered in the House memo, all of which took place well before they took their current jobs. They aren’t out to protect themselves, and they certainly aren’t trying to cover up a liberal conspiracy against a president of their own party and the man who appointed them, as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes has charged.

When they warn that the memo is highly misleading and that its release would endanger national security, they do so because that is their informed, professional opinion.  When they dare to publicly defy a president with a hair-trigger temper and a fierce demand for loyalty, when they make themselves targets for the conspiratorial right and its media hounds and endanger their own standing within the Republican Party, they do so because in their minds the risk to themselves is less important than the risk it poses to the country.

Unfortunately, that kind of courage and patriotism is pretty rare these days. Yes, a number of Republicans have tried to distance themselves from the memo and from the larger effort to protect Trump by depicting the FBI, the Department of Justice and Special Counsel Robert Mueller as corrupt, treasonous bureaucrats. They know it’s trouble. They know this is wrong. What they will not do is speak out in strong terms against that effort. Instead of trying to protect their country and their party from such hysteria, they prefer to shrink into self-protective silence and hope the fever passes.

“These are the times that try men's souls,” as Thomas Paine once wrote. “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

So ... thank you, Director Wray.