Into the minefield steps new FBI chief Christopher Wray

Mr Christopher Wray said last month that his "loyalty is to the rule of law".
Mr Christopher Wray said last month that his "loyalty is to the rule of law".PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

New Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) chief Christopher Wray may be the most closely watched of all US President Donald Trump's appointees, as he steps into an agency roiled by political drama.

As director of the FBI, Mr Wray, who last week was confirmed by an overwhelming 92-5 vote in the Senate, will be judged for his independence in the wake of Mr Trump's summary firing in May of his predecessor James Comey.

Mr Comey, in subsequent potentially damaging testimony before a Senate committee, suggested that Mr Trump asked for his loyalty and tried to get him to soft-pedal on an FBI probe into alleged Russian interference in last year's US presidential election and collusion by key members of the Trump camp.

Since Mr Comey's ousting, the FBI has been run by deputy director Andrew McCabe, whom the President has also attacked repeatedly on Twitter because Mr McCabe's wife is a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for a legislative seat in Virginia.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is now overseeing the FBI probe. But his integrity has been questioned by Republicans and also by Mr Trump, who has periodically lashed out against what he calls a "witch hunt" over "phoney" Russia allegations.

Now, into this potential minefield steps Mr Wray, who said at his Senate confirmation hearing: "I fully understand that this is not a job for the faint of heart. I can assure this committee, I am not faint of heart."

Mr Wray, who called Mr Mueller a "consummate straight-shooter", said: "I do not consider director Mueller to be on a witch hunt."

Though he keeps a low profile and is self-effacing - certainly not the "showboat" Mr Trump accused Mr Comey of being - the New York City-born Mr Wray, 50, is a patrician of America's legal fraternity.

His father Cecil Wray retired from a partnership at New York law firm Debevoise & Plimpton. His mother was a senior programme officer at the Charles Hayden Foundation, which supports youth projects in New York and Boston.

Mr Wray graduated in 1989 from Yale University, where he met his wife Helen. They have been married for nearly 30 years.

Mrs Wray is from a prominent Atlanta family. In fact, there is a street in the city named after the family. Her great-grandfather, Mr Clark Howell, once owned the Atlanta Constitution newspaper. Her father, Mr Henry Howell, was vice-president of the First National Bank of Atlanta.

In 1992, Mr Wray earned his law degree from Yale Law School, where, among other things, he was executive editor of the Yale Law Journal.

He was hired as a federal prosecutor in Atlanta in 1997 and rose to become assistant attorney-general, where he oversaw an investigation into fraud at Enron - where he worked with Mr Comey. He also worked on several national and transnational counter-terrorism operations.

In 2005, he joined the international law firm King and Spalding - which has offices around the world including Singapore - at the firm's Washington and Atlanta offices, representing several Fortune 100 companies and also acting for New Jersey governor Chris Christie in the "Bridgegate" affair.

The governor was not charged, but his political reputation took a hit, and two of his allies were jailed in March this year for their part in closing down access lanes of the busy George Washington Bridge linking New York City and northern New Jersey in 2013, in an act of political retribution against a mayor for not backing Mr Christie.

The Wrays have two children - daughter Caroline, 22, and son Trip, 20. Their daughter is also in Yale, while their son is at Lafayette College and reportedly plays for the lacrosse team.

Grilled by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr Wray said: "My loyalty is to the Constitution and the rule of law.

"If I am given the honour of leading this agency, I will never allow the FBI's work to be driven by anything other than the facts, the law and the impartial pursuit of justice. Period. Full stop."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2017, with the headline 'Into the minefield steps new FBI chief Christopher Wray'. Print Edition | Subscribe