At the moment, President Donald Trump has yet to officially name a new FBI director to replace James Comey. But his recently-chosen nominee, Christopher Wray, may have Russian ties, by way of some of the clients his law firm handles.
As previously reported, former Department of Justice official Christopher Wray was announced earlier this week as President Trump’s pick to replace James Comey as FBI Director. The 50-year-old Wray made his name primarily for defending New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in the “Bridgegate” controversy and had led the DOJ task force investigating Enron, according to a report Wednesday from the Inquisitr.
Wray’s role in the Bridgegate scandal was noteworthy, as one of Christie’s “missing” cell phones had somehow been found in his lawyer’s possession. This was confirmed by a spokesman for the New Jersey governor, according to a 2016 report from NJ.com. But what’s really interesting about Christopher Wray is his link to two Russian oil companies, which USA Today had noted in an op-ed earlier on Thursday.
In an opinion piece for USA Today, former DOJ federal prosecutor Kenneth McCallion pointed out that Wray’s law firm, King & Spalding, represents two of the largest state-controlled oil firms in Russia, Rosneft and Gazprom. As McCallion wrote, Rosneft gained notoriety when it appeared in former British MI6 agent Christopher Steele’s dossier, which alleged that the company’s CEO, Igor Sechin, offered Donald Trump a 19 percent stake in his firm, under the condition that his administration lift the sanctions levied against Russia by predecessor Barack Obama.
Christopher Wray’s alleged ties to Russia through Rosneft would put him in a similar boat as Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who had entered into a $500 billion oil drilling joint venture with Rosneft, back when he was CEO of Exxon, McCallion added. The deal, which was inked in 2012, was off just two years later, when then-President Obama sanctioned Russia, thereby inhibiting the country’s capacity to negotiate with American firms. If the sanctions are lifted, this would allow Exxon and Rosneft to renew their agreement, which could leave King & Spalding caught in the middle as both companies try to renegotiate.
The other oil company linking Christopher Wray’s law firm to Russia is Gazprom, and McCallion noted that this could “raise even more serious conflict issues” for Trump’s nominee for the FBI directorship. And that’s because of the man in charge of the company, Ukrainian businessman Dmitry Firtash, who is considered one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest cronies, as well as an alleged financial associate of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.
The USA Today opinion piece stresses that King & Spalding’s representation of the two oil companies is not an outright indication that Christopher Wray has a link to Russia, as there’s no proof as to whether he had worked on any of Rosneft or Gazprom’s cases handled by the law firm. However, there is a possibility that that may represent a conflict of interest once the FBI investigates into Donald Trump’s supposed dealings with Russia.
“When a law firm such as King & Spalding represents clients, then all of the partners in that law firm have an actual or potential conflict of interest, preventing them from undertaking any representation of any other client that has interests clearly adverse to those of these two Russian companies.”
As conflict-of-interest rules would still apply to a lawyer even after they exit their firm, this could mean Christopher Wray could be barred from any Russia probe involving Rosneft, Gazprom, and their affiliates, on ethical grounds.
As Kenneth McCallion saw it in his USA Today op-ed, the potential confirmation of Christopher Wray as FBI Director could create a lose-lose situation of sorts, where Wray may have to recuse himself from a Russia probe, something that could be “potentially damaging” to the FBI’s investigation. However, if Wray chooses not to recuse himself, or isn’t able to acknowledge the conflict of interest, this could result in integrity issues on the FBI’s end, with people questioning the agency’s “level of commitment.”
With the above details possibly painting Christopher Wray as a “Russia-friendly” FBI Director if he gets the job, McCallion concluded by saying that the Senate should be very careful during Wray’s confirmation hearing and has to make sure he discloses or resolves any and all potential conflicts.
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