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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 8/2/17

Wray Confirmed as FBI Director as Questions Swirl over His Past Record & Close Ties to Big Business

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The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Christopher Wray as the next director of the FBI, but in an unprecedented move, five senators voted against his nomination. Before yesterday, only one senator had ever voted against an FBI nominee. In addition, three senators abstained from the vote. Senator Ron Wyden, who voted against Wray's confirmation, said he did so because of Wray's position on government surveillance. "In his public and private statements, Chris Wray failed to oppose government backdoors into Americans' personal devices, or to acknowledge the facts about encryption. That it isn't about liberty versus security, it's about more security versus less security." The American Civil Liberties Union also criticized Wray for his involvement in the U.S. torture program under George W. Bush. We speak with independent journalist Marcy Wheeler and economist James Henry.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, the Senate has confirmed longtime corporate lawyer Christopher Wray, in a 92-to-5 vote, to become the next director of the FBI, replacing James Comey, who was fired by Donald Trump in May. In an unprecedented vote, five senators, all Democrats, voted against Wray. Before yesterday, only one senator had ever voted against an FBI nominee. The five Democrats were Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, both of Massachusetts, and Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, both of Oregon. In addition, three senators didn't vote: Richard Burr of North Carolina, Minnesota's Al Franken and Arizona's John McCain.

In a statement, Senator Wyden criticized Wray because of his stance on government surveillance. Wyden said, quote, "In his public and private statements, Chris Wray failed to oppose government backdoors into Americans' personal devices, or to acknowledge the facts about encryption. That it isn't about liberty versus security, it's about more security versus less security," he wrote.

The American Civil Liberties Union also criticized Wray in part for his work at the Justice Department under George W. Bush, when he worked with many of the key architects of the U.S. torture program.

For more on Christopher Wray, we're joined by two guests. Marcy Wheeler is with us. She is an independent journalist who covers national security and civil liberties. She runs the website, joining us from Michigan. And joining us via Democracy Now! video stream is economist and lawyer James Henry, global justice fellow at Yale University, senior adviser with the Tax Justice Network, former chief economist at McKinsey Company. He recently wrote for The American Interest a piece that is headlined "No Wray."

We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

JAMES HENRY: Good to be with you.

AMY GOODMAN: Marcy Wheeler, let's begin with you. Talk about the confirmation of Christopher Wray as the next FBI director, its significance.

MARCY WHEELER: Well, I think he was overwhelmingly confirmed because he gave the assurances. He gave these very well-rehearsed assurances that he was not going to end any investigation into the -- into Russia and collusion with the Trump administration. But at the same time, the confirmation process really didn't get into a lot of the questions that he might have faced about his own tenure at DOJ in the Bush administration, and it didn't get into some of his own actions in the past that would really answer whether or not he was going to be independent. And as you mentioned, Senator Wyden also had additional concerns about Wray's response on encryption, on whether or not the FBI is going to continue to seek backdoors into secure communications.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, 92 to 5 sounds like a pretty overwhelming majority for confirmation as FBI director, of the senators, and I'm sure most people see it that way. It is quite something that it is the largest "no" vote in the history of confirmation of FBI directors. Only one senator, when Comey was confirmed, voted against him, and that was Rand Paul. He was opposed to Comey because he would not rule out drone domestic surveillance, Marcy.

MARCY WHEELER: Right. And frankly, the numbers shouldn't be that overwhelming ever. The FBI director, it's a tenure position. And there -- you know, all of these people, including Jim Comey, had controversial things in their past. There's this notion that we have to have unanimous approval for this top law enforcement officer. And yet, I think that that shows a lack of skepticism, which is really important.

And importantly here, I think there was the view among some people in the Democratic Party -- and it should be more broadly -- that Trump is getting rewarded for having fired Jim Comey. As you described at the top of the show, there are -- we have two new pieces of evidence that Trump is obstructing justice into the Russian investigation, into Comey's firing. And yet, he still gets to replace Comey with somebody. Absent Christopher Wray being confirmed, we would have Andrew McCabe, who was basically Comey's deputy. It would be sort of a status quo. Yet now Trump gets to reward himself for having gotten rid of the guy who was investigating him and his family.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, he's been attacking McCabe, along with Jeff Sessions, on Twitter. And explain, Marcy Wheeler, what this role, Christopher Wray as FBI director -- exactly what that role is, since there is a special prosecutor because Jeff Sessions recused himself, to the tremendous ire of President Trump.

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