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FBI Nominee: 'I Do Not Consider Director Mueller to be on a Witch Hunt'

WASHINGTON -- Several Senate Democrats expressed support for the nomination of Christopher Wray as the FBI director-designate vowed "strict independence" from the White House, promised he'd resign before following an illegal order from the president and voiced his opposition to enhance interrogation techniques.

"I believe to my core that there's only one right way to do this job and that is with strict independence, by the book, playing it straight, faithful to the Constitution, faithful to our laws and faithful to the best practices of the institution: without fear, without favoritism and, certainly, without regard to any partisan political influence," Wray, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Criminal Division from 2003 to 2005, told the Senate Judiciary Committee today.

"And I have way, way, way too much respect and affection, frankly, for the men and women of the FBI to do anything less than that," he added. "And I would just say anybody who thinks that I would be pulling punches as the FBI director sure doesn't know me very well."

Former Sen. Sam Nunn (R-Ga.) testified on Wray's behalf at the beginning of the hearing, saying the nominee "understands that the FBI and the Department of Justice owe loyalty to the Constitution, our laws, and our nation and not to any particular office holder."

"If confirmed, I have complete confidence that Chris will follow the facts and the law with fairness, with thoroughness, with intelligence and objectivity wherever that path may lead," Nunn added.

Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) asked Wray what he would do as FBI director if the president "asks you to do something unlawful or unethical."

"First, I would try to talk him out of it. And if that failed, I would resign," Wray replied."

Wray would not answer questions on why he believed former FBI Director James Comey was fired, but called Comey, who was deputy attorney general when Wray was at the Justice Department, "a terrific lawyer, a dedicated public servant and a wonderful colleague." Wray added that he hasn't "been in touch with him in a number of years."

On the intelligence community assessment that Russia waged an influence operation against the 2016 presidential campaign, Wray stressed that he didn't have access to the classified version of the report but "from what I reviewed, I have no reason whatsoever to doubt the assessment of the intelligence community." The full report would "be one of the first things I'd want to see" if confirmed, he added.

After Wray said he was unfamiliar with the emails released by Donald Trump Jr. regarding a June 2016 meeting with a Russian attorney promising to deliver information from the Kremlin damaging to Hillary Clinton, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) read the exchange and pressed the nominee on whether Trump Jr. should have taken the meeting or contacted the FBI.