WASHINGTON (AP) — Chris Wray was formally installed as the new FBI director on Thursday in a ceremony notable for the absence of the man who appointed him: President Donald Trump.
The ceremony in a courtyard at FBI headquarters was largely a formality since Wray has been on the job for about two months. But in a reflection of the unusual circumstances of the event, it took place without Trump. And Wray’s two direct predecessors as FBI director, James Comey and Robert Mueller, were also absent, avoiding potentially uncomfortable encounters amid an investigation that touches the White House.
Trump fired Comey in May, and Mueller was appointed as special counsel the following week to oversee an FBI investigation into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Part of that probe includes an investigation into Comey’s firing.
Trump’s absence was all the more striking given that President Barack Obama attended the most recent FBI director installation ceremony, for Comey in 2013, and spoke warmly about him.
Neither the Russia investigation nor a separate FBI probe of Hillary Clinton’s email use was directly referenced during the 45-minute ceremony. Yet the politics of the event were unmistakable, at both the podium and in the audience, which included Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who wrote the memo that the White House initially held up as justification for Comey’s firing.
“Our mission is simple but profound — to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution. That mission hasn’t changed, and it won’t change — not as long as I have anything to say about it,” Wray said.
Speaking in general terms about the FBI’s mission, he later added, “We’re going to follow the facts independently, no matter where they lead and no matter who likes it.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the Russia investigation in March and was later involved in Trump’s decision to fire Comey, praised Wray as “brilliant, hard-working and an American patriot.” His prepared remarks, though not mentioning Comey by name, included comments that could be seen as indirect jibes at him and his handling of the Clinton email case, with Sessions at one point saying, “A director must know it is not about him, but about security, justice and law.”
Wray, a former federal prosecutor, was a high-ranking Justice Department official during the George W. Bush administration, serving as head of its criminal division. He most recently worked in private law practice in Atlanta.
FBI directors are appointed to 10-year terms to protect them from political influence. Mueller, who took over as director days before the Sept. 11 attacks, wound up serving for 12 years. Comey was fired in his fourth year.