In normal times, it wouldn't be headline news if a nominee for director of the FBI rejected the notion of taking a personal loyalty oath to the president or refused to characterize as a "witch hunt" an investigation into highly plausible allegations that a hostile foreign country interfered in a U.S. election.
But when Christopher A. Wray, President Trump's nominee to head the bureau, took those positions at his confirmation hearing Wednesday, there was the proverbial audible sigh of relief in Washington.
That is because these are not normal times and Donald Trump is not a normal president.
The day after his son and namesake released an email chain showing that he was eager to accept "opposition research" described as coming from the Russian government, the president tweeted: "My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!" (Not for the first time, the president declined to follow the advice of the Los Angeles Times editorial board, which had urged him to stop the witch hunt talk.)
More to the point, the FBI may be investigating whether Trump obstructed justice in firing James B, Comey, the last director of the FBI. Last month Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that, in addition to expressing the hope that Comey would go easy on former national security advisor Michael Flynn, Trump had told Comey: "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty."
Now listen to Wray testifying Wednesday before the Judiciary Committee: "No one asked me for any kind of loyalty oath at any point during this process, and I sure as heck didn't offer one."
Wray also promised that he wouldn't brook any interference with the investigation of Russian meddling in the election — and possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign — being led by special counsel (and former FBI chief) Robert Mueller. "I would consider an effort to tamper with Director Mueller's investigation to be unacceptable and inappropriate and would need to be dealt with very sternly and appropriately indeed," Wray told the Judiciary Committee.
This couldn't have been music to President Trump's ears, but especially after the revelations about his son's meeting in Trump Tower it's hard to believe that even this abnormal president would treat Wray the way he did Comey.
If he did, he'd be moving against his own appointee, not an Obama holdover whose firing could be rationalized on grounds other than displeasure over a "witch hunt" about Russia. The administration initially suggested that Trump fired Comey because of a recommendation by Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein, who found fault with the way Comey handled the investigation of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of State. (With a characteristic lack of discipline, Trump muddled that explanation when he told NBC's Lester Holt that he was thinking of "this Russia thing" when he decided to dismiss Comey.)
When the president met with Russian officials at the White House in May, he said that firing Comey — whom he called "a real nut job" — had relieved "great pressure" on him. Wray's testimony suggests that any relief was temporary.
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