Russia / Trump probe "is not a witch hunt", says new head of FBI

The lawyer Donald Trump picked to lead the FBI has declared he does not believe a special counsel investigation into possible co-ordination between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign is a "witch hunt".

Christopher Wray, the former high-ranking Justice Department official whom Mr Trump nominated last month, also told senators at his confirmation hearing that he would never let politics get in the way of the bureau’s mission.

The FBI’s work will be driven only by "the facts, the law and the impartial pursuit of justice", he said, asserting his independence.

"My loyalty is to the Constitution and the rule of law. They have been my guideposts throughout my career, and I will continue to adhere to them no matter the test."

Mr Trump has repeatedly derided as a "hoax" and a "witch hunt" an ongoing investigation by the FBI and Robert Mueller, the former FBI director selected in May as the special counsel to oversee the probe.

Mr Wray, selected for the FBI job last month after Mr Trump fired James Comey, made clear that he disagreed with the characterisation.

"I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt," he said under questioning from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

He pledged to lead the FBI "without regard to any partisan political influence" and said he would consider unacceptable any efforts to interfere with Mr Mueller’s investigation.

After Mr Trump dismissed Mr Comey on May 9, the ex-FBI director said the president had asked him to pledge his loyalty during a dinner at the White House months earlier.

He also said Mr Trump had encouraged him to end an investigation into the former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Mr Wray said Mr Trump made no demand for loyalty from him.

The 50-year-old would inherit the nation’s top law enforcement agency at a particularly challenging time, given the abrupt dismissal of Mr Comey by a president who has appeared insensitive to the bright-line boundary between the White House and the FBI.

Mr Wray’s lengthy legal career included a stint as a top Justice Department official in the Bush administration and white-collar work at an international law firm with several major corporations and banks as clients.

He served the government at a time when harsh interrogation techniques were approved within the Justice Department for terror suspects captured overseas, although Mr Wraysaid he was never involved in signing off on those methods.

Though Mr Trump as a candidate professed support for waterboarding, Mr Wray said he considered torture to be wrong and ineffective.

"The FBI is going to play no part in the use of any techniques of that sort," he said.

Mr Wray was announced as the nominee in a curt, early morning tweet by Mr Trump, and without the pageantry of a Rose Garden ceremony.

So the hearing offered the first public, close-up look at him and his background.

Several senators stated that they feel he is "the right man for the job".

Lawyers and FBI agents who have worked with him describe him as a steady hand, dedicated and low-key, seemingly impervious to political influence.

An association representing the majority of FBI agents on Monday voiced its support for Mr Wray, saying "he understands the nature of investigative work and the centrality of special agents to the mission of the FBI".

Bill Mateja, a Dallas lawyer who worked with him in the Justice Department, said "he has a great moral compass and he’s no one’s minion".

- AP

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