Few organizations face the types of challenges that confront the FBI on a daily basis. The Bureau, as agents fondly call the FBI, investigates everything from bank robberies to political corruption to espionage. Who leads the Bureau, with its many domestic as well as international investigative responsibilities, matters to every single American citizen because the work it does has considerable, even national, security consequences.
The Bureau, and the United States, faces many challenges, everything from terrorism and cyber attacks to election meddling by a foreign power. Christopher Wray, who is up for confirmation before the Senate on Wednesday, is well aware of the many challenges as a result of his years working at the Justice Department, where he headed the Criminal Division as assistant attorney general in the Bush administration. Ironically, he worked with former FBI directors Robert Mueller and James Comey at the Justice Department during the aftermath of 9/11. Those challenges, if he is confirmed—and in all likelihood he will be—will keep him busy. But those aren’t the only challenges.
To be the FBI director, you have to commit to at least 10 years. Not many people are willing to do that, especially if they're going to lose out on more lucrative ventures in the private sector. Through his own revelations, Wray has done well financially in private practice. So the first question that must be asked at his confirmation hearing is two-fold: Is he willing to commit 10 years of his life to the FBI, and if so, why? Why would anyone who is out of government want to come back? It’s not like it's a fun job being an FBI director. Every phone call you receive, every email that pings on your screen, is one more issue, problem, or catastrophe. So why do it for a pay cut?
Being at the helm of the Bureau means managing an enormous bureaucracy—over 35,000 employees. Who will he bring in to help him manage? And more importantly, what is his commitment to the men and women of the FBI? Wray has worked with Bureau personnel before and therefore knows what to expect as far as a “work product” is concerned. But does he know what it will be like to be their boss, to deal with personnel issues? Will he listen to the field agents or only an obsequious headquarter staff? Will he get in the way of agents or will he be the kind of director that clears the way so investigators can do their jobs?
Good people do dumb things occasionally. There is no question now that former FBI director James Comey chose poorly when he decided to air the FBI findings into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Wray is likely to assure the public that he will follow departmental rules and leave findings to the Justice Department to handle.
What steps will Wray take to ensure that the Bureau is insulated from political influence, and that he is insulated as well? I think it is fair to ask if, had he been approached by the sitting president to make, as Comey alleges, the Michael Flynn-Russia investigation go away, would he have reported it to the attorney general? I think the American public needs to know what he would have done or what he would do in a similar situation.
The Russian meddling into the election remains an issue. In essence, Russia is conducting war by other means against the United States. The question for the next FBI director is very simple: Will he dedicate the necessary resources, manpower, and interest to investigate this matter fully? And will he dedicate himself and the Bureau to finding out why on earth anyone associated with Trump would be contacting Russian officials prior to the election?
Fidelity, bravery, integrity: Those are the three words that appear in the center of the FBI seal, and they are there for a reason. That is what is expected from every man and woman who works for the FBI.
Will the new director demonstrate his fidelity and loyalty to the constitution of the United States, or does he have a political yoke around his neck?
We have a president who seems to have little regard for the intelligence community of which the FBI is a member. How will Wray deal with that? Will he school the president on Russia’s interference in our elections? How will he deal with a president who is incapable of acknowledging facts, or even photographic evidence? Will he be able to deal with a president who was labeled by his fellow Republican candidates as a “pathological liar” and “con artist”? Will he be brave and exhibit integrity, or will he be one more sycophant who will remain piously silent?
If Wray can answer these questions, and demonstrate by action, not just words, that he will exercise fidelity, bravery, and integrity, then perhaps Wray may just be the right person to be the new director of the FBI in these extraordinary times. As a former career FBI agent, I certainly hope so.
Joe Navarro is a 25-year veteran FBI Special Agent, and the author of Three Minutes to Doomsday: An Agent, a Traitor, and the Worst Espionage Breach in U.S. History, published by Scribner.