President Donald Trump has already “tarnished” the process of finding an FBI director to replace James Comey — who the president fired in May in an effort to halt the agency’s Russia investigation.
The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff spoke to FBI personnel and experts on ethics and the federal nomination process for an article published Friday that explains why the roll-out of Christopher Wray to head the FBI was bungled from the very start.
The nomination is currently in limbo. Trump announced Wray as his pick on June 7, more than two weeks ago. Woodruff said, however, that the Senate Judiciary Committee hasn’t heard anything from the White House regarding Wray’s nomination.
The delay is highly unusual, though not unheard-of, said Richard Painter, White House ethics czar to President George W. Bush. Painter explained that the White House may have rushed the announcement before properly vetting Wray.
“You usually don’t want to do it that way,” Painter said. “If you make the announcement early, you take a risk.”
White House spokesman Michael Short got snippy when asked about the administration’s radio silence on Wray since Trump’s tweet announcing his nomination.
“Sorry was there a date that we said he’d be cleared by?” Short said via email. “Otherwise I don’t know how you can say there is a ‘delay.’ The clearance process is very rigorous for a high-level position such as this. It takes as long as it takes.”
Woodruff noted, “Bob Mueller was confirmed as FBI director one month after George W. Bush nominated him for the post. And the Senate confirmed Comey five weeks after Obama nominated him.”
The problem, she wrote, is that Wray’s nomination “was a bit backwards from the get-go.”
Trump announced Wray as his choice for FBI director the day before former Director James Comey’s blockbuster testimony before Congress and “a host of media outlets, including Breitbart, Business Insider, and Al Jazeera, ran headlines saying the president had nominated him.”
In fact, Wray has not been nominated for the post. No federal appointee is considered nominated until the White House sends their paperwork to the Senate to begin the confirmation process. No such paperwork has been submitted for Wray.
Normally, presidents keep their list of nominees secret until they’ve had a chance to vet them and perform extensive background checks. Keeping the nominees hush-hush also gives administration opponents less time to dig up dirt on the nominees.
Of course, as with many other presidential conventions and norms, Trump has opted for a more ham-fisted, reality TV style narrative, unveiling nominees and other headline-grabbing announcements when he needs to deflect attention away from one or more matters that are reaching a boiling point.
Matt Miller — former spokesman for the Eric Holder Justice Department — told Woodruff that the delay in submitting Wray’s paperwork is very likely tied to vetting issues.
“Usually that means you haven’t fully vetted the person and finished going through all the background checks you need to do,” said Miller. “And given the way this White House works, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they hadn’t fully vetted him by the time they made the announcement.”
Trump’s decision to announce Wray as his choice on Twitter rankled many at the FBI. Current and former agents and other personnel called it “a slap in the face” after all of the president’s grandstanding around Comey’s firing and gave the appearance that the president was dragging the nonpartisan FBI into his own political squabbles.
“Unfortunately, the timing of this nomination –– if this is what you call it, nomination by tweet –– the timing of it looks as political as anything else today, because this was obviously timed to take a little bit of light and heat out of tomorrow’s show,” said retired FBI Deputy Director Ron Hosko earlier this month. “The first step in this president’s dealing with what could be the next FBI director is politics on display, day one, moment one.”
“He talks, Trump does, about the premiere law enforcement agency in the world and yet — I don’t know, I just don’t understand how he operates,” said a retired FBI agent to the Daily Beast. “To me, it’s another example of the guy’s total lack of respect and understanding for the government operates.”
Painter — who serves on the board of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) — said Trump has fully tainted and politicized the hunt for a new FBI director, remarking, “The whole thing is tarnished.”