Tags: christopher wray | fbi | nominee | senate | james comey

FBI Nominee Wray Could Show Courage Comey Lacked

Image: FBI Nominee Wray Could Show Courage Comey Lacked
Christopher Wray, nominee for FBI Director, testifies during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Building on July 12, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

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Wednesday, 12 July 2017 05:04 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Shortly after FBI Director Nominee Christopher Asher Wray, 50, was sworn in this morning in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, an uneasy détente seemed to settle over the proceeding. Washington, D.C., of recent, has seen a decidedly wide divide — a gargantuan gaping chasm, if you will — in desperate search of a bridge. Not just any bridge, mind you, but one that can unite the Hatfields and the McCoys, Yankee and Red Sox fans, Republicans and Democrats, and supporters and deniers of proof in the Russian collusion investigation.

Wray appeared to be a sort of savior for those of us who appreciate the refreshing effects of polite, civil discourse and expect politicians from opposing parties to work together and just do their damn jobs — like asking pertinent questions of the nominee, while resisting the intoxicating urge to use the examination of the candidate’s fitness for office as a personal soliloquy platform, to grandstand, to score cheap political points, and from which to endlessly drone on and on and on. But, alas, I digress…

Look, the candidate certainly didn’t present as larger-than-life. His quiet, understated, and implacable demeanor could appear vexing for those inclined to more emotive and colorful figures under consideration for as powerful and indelible a position as Director of the FBI. But Wray astutely understood the task at hand. And during these highly polarized times, what was necessary was for the nominee to avoid committing any unforced errors. Minimize your mistakes. Run the clock out. Avoid the satisfying-in-the-moment, long, drawn-out responses that tend to ensnare and trip up even the most careful and expert public interlocutors.

His Clark Kent shock of hair aside, Wray cut an unassuming figure perched behind the table in the committee room. Certainly shorter in physical stature than Comey, he also seemed not to share Comey’s flair for the dramatic during testimony. His answers were purposely brief and he missed several opportunities to engage on topics with which he surely had valid formed opinions, but knew it would be imprudent to share them with the body assembled.

And as I sat on set with some colleagues in CNN’s D.C. bureau, waiting to go on air if there ever was a break in the proceedings for some "post-game analysis," we were all struck by Wray’s supreme patience at being forced to repeat answers to the same questions posed by different Senators over, and over, and over, again. But here Wray showed an unflappable mien and calmly and consistently repeated his responses. In this environment, exactly what the doctor ordered.

Much was at stake here today in that chamber and Mr. Wray clearly recognized the gravity of the situation. He copped to being "boring" and quipped that this is how his children would describe him. He confirmed his commitment to resign alongside his potential FBI Director predecessors, James B. Comey and Robert S. Mueller III, during the dramatic March of 2004 hospital bedside standoff with Bush 43 Administration officials over the Stellar Wind program. He also mollified the repeated concerns Democrat Senators had over the use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (he is opposed to their use) and whether he would pledge fealty to anything (or anyone) other than the Constitution (he would not). All in all, he kept it between the white lines.

And the apparent relief from both sides of the aisle was palpable. Suspend disbelief for a moment and imagine a nominee handpicked by President Trump trading quips with Senator Al Franken (D-MN). Yup, that happened. And then, if you really want to feel as if you’re residing in Bizarro World, imagine Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) actually pressing a line of attack that forced the ever-cautious Wray to finally admit that if presented an opportunity as Donald Trump, Jr. was last June, to ostensibly meet with a representative of the Kremlin with potentially damaging information about a political opponent, well, um, yeah, it’d be "wise" to run, not walk, to the nearest FBI Office with the details surrounding an apparent attempt to influence a U.S. election. Bravo, sir. There’s only one answer to that question and you gave it.

So, it’s really quite simple. As I used to tell the young charges who answered to me during my 25-year FBI career, just follow these three tenets: Don’t break the law. Don’t go outside of the strict written Attorney General’s Guidelines. And do the right thing in every instance. Now go get the bad guys! Respectfully speaking, Mr. Wray, follow that advice and you’ll make one hell of an FBI director.

And look, I’ve noticed that in selecting FBI directors, the nation appears to operate in the same manner as a professional sports franchise. Traditionally, when hiring and firing managers and coaches — an easy-going "player’s coach" is always followed by a strict, unwavering disciplinarian. And when the drill sergeant approach doesn’t translate to enough wins, organizations seeking a change at the top, seemingly always gravitate back to a relaxed, loosey-goosey skipper.

Well, on May 9, the president removed the loquacious "players coach" (Comey), who is now a witness to the "taciturn disciplinarian" he once replaced at the helm of the FBI (Mueller). Stands to reason that Wray’s reserved, understated, and spotlight-avoiding reputation is a continuation of the cycle; the FBI adopting the model of the Atlanta Braves, et al.

A most telling moment of the entire process today was Wray’s delicate threading of the needle by speaking highly of Jim Comey’s character, and then sharply criticizing his decision to hold the July 5 press conference to announce no charges were to be filed in the Hillary Rodham Clinton email case. That took guts. And highlighted his independence. The FBI needs that courage. The nation demands that independence.

Now, hopefully, Mr. Wray, if confirmed, will display the type of necessary courage that Mr. Comey admitted he lacked. This next FBI director will be tested from day one. And he should expect to be challenged by this White House. Whether he rises to the occasion or shrinks in its face, history will primarily judge him on his response.

James A. Gagliano is a 1987 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. Following his service as an Infantry Officer in the U.S. Army, he entered the FBI, serving in a myriad of positions in the investigative, tactical resolution (SWAT), undercover, diplomatic and executive management realms. He was a member of the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) and has posted to assignments in Afghanistan, Mexico City, and parts of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. He retired in December of 2015 from the FBI’s New York City Office. He currently serves as a Law Enforcement Analyst for CNN, provides Leadership consultation for corporate clients of the Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG) at his alma mater, and instructs undergraduates at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, where he earned an M.P.S. in Homeland Security and Criminal Justice Leadership in 2016. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Shortly after FBI Director Nominee Christopher Asher Wray, 50, was sworn in this morning in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, an uneasy détente seemed to settle over the proceeding.
christopher wray, fbi, nominee, senate, james comey
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2017-04-12
Wednesday, 12 July 2017 05:04 PM
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