President Joe Biden has let it be known that he will retain Christopher Wray, one of President Donald Trump’s appointees, as director of the FBI. It’s a wise decision.
Biden could replace Wray, just as Trump named Wray to replace the fired James Comey. Congress in 1976 set a 10-year term for an FBI director, but it’s generally accepted that the president has the authority to dismiss a director before the end of that term.
Nevertheless, the 1976 law created two expectations: that no future FBI director would be able to become entrenched the way J. Edgar Hoover did in his nearly 48-year reign, and that directors would have a degree of independence from any given president. Some directors haven’t served the full 10 years, and in 2011 Congress acceded to a request by President Barack Obama that it pass legislation to allow a two-year extension of Robert Mueller’s term as director.
Although it sometimes has been honored in the breach, the ideal of a 10-year term for the FBI director serves the important purpose of insulating the bureau from political pressure.
Unless a director is incompetent or has engaged in misconduct, he or she should be retained by a new president. Unlike some Trump appointees — including former Attorney General William Barr — Wray hasn’t been seen as a Trump crony. Some eyebrows were raised when Wray didn’t hold a news conference about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters, but that discretion is understandable given reports that Trump had considered firing Wray.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., a House manager in Trump’s first impeachment trial, welcomed the news that Biden would keep Wray, saying the director had served with “great professionalism and integrity.”
Biden’s decision to retain Wray is consistent with his choice of Merrick Garland as his attorney general. Unlike some other candidates for the position, Garland, a sitting federal judge, hadn’t endorsed Biden’s candidacy. Both decisions send a signal that the new president is serious about not interfering in prosecutorial decisions, whether it involve investigations into his political opponents — including Trump — or persons close to him — including Biden’s son Hunter, who has acknowledged that his “tax affairs” are being investigated by the Justice Department.
That’s a welcome change from Trump, who complained that the Justice Department wasn’t investigating his political opponents and threatened to “get involved” if the department and the FBI didn’t “start doing their job and doing it right.” Biden recognizes that “doing it right” means not politicizing justice.
Michael McGough is the Los Angeles Times’ senior editorial writer, based in Washington, D.C.