Wray has never worked at the FBI, but previously served as a top official at the Justice Department
Wray currently works as a white-collar defense attorney
In nominating Christopher Wray to be the next FBI chief, President Donald Trump immediately thrust a low-profile white collar defense lawyer into the public spotlight.
Wray’s credentials are classic establishment: a Yale Law School graduate and executive editor of the law review, law clerk to a conservative federal judge, longtime federal prosecutor for decades and top official in the Justice Department under President George W. Bush.
He currently works at King & Spalding as a litigation partner, specializing in the defense of individuals and corporations in white-collar criminal cases – and even represented New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie during the “Bridgegate” investigation into lane closures at the George Washington Bridge.
“The President asked us to look for an FBI director who has integrity, who understands and is committed to the rule of law, and who is dedicated to protecting the American people from crime, gangs, and terrorists,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement Wednesday. “We have found our man in Chris Wray.”
And while Wray was never one of the more public-facing Trump supporters, he has given more than $50,000 to Republican candidates, committees, and his law firm’s PAC since 2007, including to John McCain in 2008, Mitt Romney in 2012 and the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2016, Federal Election Commission records show.
Within hours of Trump’s announcement, others who had been under consideration for the job praised the choice.
“Chris Wray is super smart, a great lawyer and highly experienced. He will serve the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation well,” said former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson. “I’ve worked with Chris for a number of years and always had complete confidence in him. He simply doesn’t make mistakes. We’re very fortunate that he decided to re-enter public service.”
Served during tumultuous Bush years
Wray first joined the Justice Department in 2001 under Bush, and as a young prosecutor, found himself in the midst of several tumultuous showdowns.
In 2003, questions swirled on Capitol Hill as lawmakers learned that then-Attorney General John Ascroft’s top aides were regularly briefing him on key details of the investigation into who revealed the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame and Democratic senators questioned whether Ashcroft had taken on more of a hands-on role than previously understood.
And who was briefing Ashcroft? Christopher Wray – then a top official at the Justice Department’s criminal division.
He faced sharp questioning at a Senate judiciary committee hearing but maintained at the time that Ashcroft had been given all the “details needed for him to understand meaningfully what’s going on in the investigation.”
Less than a year later, Wray was reportedly among the top officials at the Justice Department – along with embattled former FBI Director James Comey and now special counsel Robert Mueller – who planned to resign after White House officials tried to persuade a hospitalized Ashcroft to sign off on a warrantless domestic surveillance program in 2004.
Ashcroft praised Wray’s nomination Wednesday.
“Chris Wray is a man of integrity with a deep commitment to the rule of law,” the former attorney general said in a statement. “His substantial experience, particularly in serving on our Justice Department team fighting terrorism after 9/11, uniquely qualifies him to protect America as FBI director.”
‘Smart, serious, and professional’
Other former colleagues universally applauded Wray on Wednesday.
Harvard Law Professor Jack Goldsmith, who served as a top official at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel when Wray was at the department – and has been a vocal critic of Trump – called Wray a “much better choice” than the other names floated to lead the FBI.
“Wray is smart, serious, and professional. He doesn’t have quite the range of experiences that his two predecessors did. But he has deep experience with federal criminal law and the FBI,” wrote Goldsmith on Lawfare. “I think Trump’s firing of James Comey was a travesty. But Wray is a good choice, a much better choice than any of the politicians I previously saw floated, and a much better choice than I expected Trump to make. Without prejudging what will surely be a probing confirmation process, I think Wray is qualified to be director of the FBI.”
Alice Fisher, a partner at Latham & Watkins who was also one of the almost dozen interviewed last month to lead the FBI called Wray a “wonderful choice.”
“Chris is a wonderful choice to lead the FBI who cares deeply about the institution and already has strong relationships with the FBI,” Fisher said. “His background at the helm of the criminal division offered an excellent experience working on national security, white collar crime and a range of federal crimes as well as offering the privilege of working with the fantastic men and women of the FBI every day. He’s an excellent lawyer who will provide even keeled leadership.
CNN’s Curt Devine and Ariane de Vogue contributed to this report.