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The FBI has been reeling since President Trump fired its director, James Comey, in May. Now the Senate is getting ready to consider his replacement. Christopher Wray has spent years working in and with the Justice Department. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports that unlike Comey, Wray has kept a low profile.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Christopher Wray's friends and mentors use one word to describe him - steady.
ANDREW HRUSKA: He thinks clearly. He makes commitments. He keeps commitments.
JOHNSON: That's Andrew Hruska. And he should know. They met in kindergarten when they were 5 years old. They're still friends and law partners 45 years later. Now Wray's preparing to give up a $9 million salary and preparing to give up clients like big banks and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to join the FBI.
HRUSKA: He's stepping out of what's an extremely successful private practice of law to lead the agency that is central to American law enforcement.
JOHNSON: Usually Chris Wray operates outside the spotlight by design, so taking a job where his predecessor was fired under questionable circumstances is a bit out of character. Michael Luttig, who's known Wray for years, thinks Wray is making the right choice.
MICHAEL LUTTIG: Chris is exactly the person both the country and the FBI need at this time in our history.
JOHNSON: Luttig is a former federal appeals court judge who hired Wray to be his law clerk.
LUTTIG: Chris is fiercely independent. He is a man of unquestioned integrity. And he has impeccable judgment.
JOHNSON: Luttig says Wray will steer the FBI and its agents away from politics. This week the FBI Agents Association offered its strong support. President Tom O'Connor told NPR Wray understands how investigations work, probably because Wray has seen that work from the inside. He served as a federal prosecutor in Atlanta before he moved to Washington for top jobs inside the George W. Bush Justice Department. Wray was a key part of a team struggling to protect national security after the September 11 attacks, heading to work in the morning before dawn and hoping that his socks matched when he got to the office. Andrew Hruska remembers.
HRUSKA: These were very intense times. We understood that we were handling some of the most significant issues in the country. And Chris was at the epicenter.
JOHNSON: That's exactly what worries David Cole, the national legal director at the ACLU. Cole says he has a lot of questions about Wray's government service after 9/11.
DAVID COLE: In our torture database, which we created through documents we received under the Freedom of Information Act, Chris Wray is named on 29 documents. And these are all documents related to the Bush administration's use of torture and coercive interrogation tactics against detainees.
JOHNSON: Cole says Wray got notice about mistreatment of detainees and at least one death. But his responses were redacted, so it's not clear what, if anything, he did. That's important, Cole says, because some of the biggest pushback to that program in those years came from inside the FBI.
COLE: We rely on the FBI to play an independent role at its best. So the question is, are we putting at the head of the FBI someone who has shown that independence? Or are we putting at the head of the FBI somebody who has been a yes man to programs that raise very serious civil liberties and human rights concerns?
JOHNSON: Wray's friends and former colleagues say he's prepared to stand up for his values. He's the son and grandson of prominent lawyers in New York. And colleagues point out he was prepared to resign over a surveillance dispute during the Bush administration right along with James Comey, the man President Trump fired this year at the FBI, and Robert Mueller, the man now leading the special investigation into Russian election interference. His friend Andrew Hruska says Wray has reverence for the Justice Department. He won't violate his principles, Hruska says.
HRUSKA: If Chris felt that there was a reason to leave, I think he would leave unhesitatingly.
JOHNSON: Just one of the many questions the Senate Judiciary Committee will be asking Wray in his hearing this week. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.
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