Biden plans to keep Christopher Wray on as FBI director if Trump doesn't fire him

Chris Wray FBI director
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 05: FBI Director Christopher Wray arrives for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing titled Threats to the Homeland, in Hart Building on Tuesday, November 5, 2019. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
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  • President-elect Joe Biden will keep Christopher Wray on as the FBI director if he's still in the role when the new administration takes office, The New York Times reported.

  • A senior Biden official told The Times that the president-elect's team was "not removing the FBI director unless Trump fired him."

  • President Donald Trump has repeatedly considered firing Wray because of his refusal to launch investigations targeting the Bidens and his reluctance to declassify documents fanning the flames of Trump's conspiracy theories about the Russia investigation.

  • Biden's reported plan to keep Wray on is part of his broader effort to restore trust in the DOJ, FBI, and intelligence community, which have become overtly politicized under the Trump administration.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

President-elect Joe Biden will not replace FBI director Christopher Wray when he takes office in January, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.

A senior Biden official told The Times that the president-elect's team was "not removing the FBI director unless Trump fired him."

The White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany declined to say on Wednesday afternoon whether President Donald Trump had confidence in Wray. "He's made no assessment, at least in my presence, about that," she told reporters.

FBI directors typically serve out 10-year terms and are rarely fired. But Trump shook up that norm when he fired then FBI director James Comey in 2017 after Comey revealed that the bureau was investigating whether the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government to tilt the 2016 election in Trump's favor.

The White House initially said Trump fired Comey on the recommendation of then Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But Trump later told NBC's Lester Holt that he was going to oust Comey regardless of Rosenstein's recommendation because of "this Russia thing."

Comey's firing was a central thread in the special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into whether the president obstructed justice in the Russia inquiry. Mueller's team ultimately declined to make a "traditional prosecutorial judgment" on whether Trump broke the law, citing a 1973 Office of Legal Counsel memo that says a sitting president cannot be indicted. But prosecutors specified in their final report that if they had confidence Trump had not committed a crime, they would have said so.

After removing Comey, Trump appointed Wray to serve as head of the FBI. But he's also drawn the president's ire in recent months over his refusal to announce an investigation targeting Biden ahead of the election to give Trump a boost in the polls.

The Times reported that Trump's anger with Wray peaked over the summer when US officials declassified documents related to the FBI's investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn. According to the report, Trump believed Wray had intentionally delayed declassifying the documents, whose release national security and intelligence veterans warned could compromise sources and methods.

Trump was on the brink of firing Wray at the time, the report said, and was only dissuaded when White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Attorney General William Barr intervened and talked him out of it.

In late October, The Washington Post reported that Trump was again considering giving Wray the boot. The president's frustration came after he, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and their right-wing media allies circulated a widely discredited New York Post story floating unfounded allegations that Biden and his son, Hunter, were tied to corrupt Ukrainian interests.

In light of the baseless claims, Trump reportedly expected an event akin to the "Comey letter" in the 2016 election, in which Comey informed Congress that the bureau had reopened its investigation of Clinton's email server. Clinton and many prominent Democrats later said Comey's letter played a pivotal role in tanking her campaign just days before the November 2016 election. Wray's refusal to deliver Trump a similar event is said to have infuriated the president.

The FBI director also stoked Trump's anger when he and several top intelligence and cybersecurity officials appeared in a video weeks before the 2020 election reassuring Americans of the safety of the electoral process and debunking many of Trump's conspiracy theories about voting by mail.

"Next month, we will exercise one of our most cherished rights and a foundation of our democracy - the right to vote in a free and fair election," Wray said in the video, which was released on October 7. "Some Americans will go to the polls on November 3 to cast their votes, while others will be voting by mail; in fact, some have already begun to return their ballots."

He added: "No matter which method you choose, your voice is important. Rest assured that the security of the election - and safeguarding your vote - is and will continue to be one of our highest priorities."

Biden, for his part, has emphasized that he will not encourage the Justice Department or FBI to pursue politically motivated investigations targeting Trump and his allies. The pledge is part of the president-elect's broader effort to restore public trust in the law enforcement apparatus and intelligence community, both of which have become overtly politicized under Trump's administration.

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