Trump’s pick for the next FBI director, Christopher Wray, looks impeccable on paper. Right from his Yale Law School degree to his decades-long career in the Department of Justice, as a distinguished federal prosecutor and high-level official, Wray seems perfect. Of course, everyone knows nobody is perfect.
Reports have tied Wray’s law firm, King & Spalding, to two of Russia’s largest state-controlled oil companies — Rosnef and Gazprom. According to the report by USA Today, although there have been no signs of Wray personally being involved in any legal matters concerning Rosnef or Gazprom, there could easily be a conflict of interest, when it comes to his involvement in FBI’s Russian probe, given his law firm’s stakes in those companies.
Rosneft is infamous for being the company that was mentioned in a dossier written by a former British MI6 agent who claimed that the company’s CEO, Igor Sechin, had offered the then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (via his campaign manager Carter Page), a large stake in the company in exchange for lifting the United States’s sanctions on Russia should he be elected President in the 2016 Presidential elections. The 35-page dossier by MI6 agent Christopher Steele can be found here.
Rosneft had also, in 2012, signed a $500 billion joined oil drilling venture with U.S. oil company Exxon. But the deal was crippled following the Obama imposed sanctions on Russia in 2014, which prohibited Exxon, an American company, from doing business with Rosneft, a Russian company. But if Trump were to lift the U.S.’s sanctions on Russia as insinuated by Christopher Steele’s dossier, Rosneft and Exxon could reinstate their joint venture. As a result, the law firm King & Spalding could be directly involved in contract negotiations between the two companies. Given that Trump’s new pick for FBI director is a partner in this firm, there is the possibility of a conflict of interest.
King & Spalding’s representation of the other Russian oil company in question, Gazprom, seems to be more worrying than the former. Gazprom is a partner in a firm controlled by Ukrainian oligarch Dimitry Firtash. Firtash, who is considered to be among Putin’s inner circles, is known to have made several financial dealings with Trump’s other campaign manager Paul Manafort.
So the real question here is, is Wray’s partnership in King & Spalding a matter of concern, given that he is going to be the new director of the FBI, and will be overlooking the bureau’s Russian probe? The rules dictate that when a law firm represents certain clients, all of its partners are burdened with a conflict of interest, preventing them from representing any new client that could have interests that are in conflict with the old client. Also, this rule holds even after the partner exits the law firm. Hence, ethically speaking, Wray could be restricted from pursuing the FBI’s Russian probe, a controversial matter that led U.S. President Donald to relieve former FBI director James Comey from his duties.
Another possible pick as the new FBI director was former senator Joe Lieberman, who was discounted and considered unfit for the job solely because of his own law firm, Kasowitz Benson Torres, which has represented Donald Trump for several years. But if Lieberman was discounted to avoid the appearance of favoritism, it raises the question of why Christopher Wray has been seen as a suitable pick. In many ways, Wray’s own ties to the Russian oil companies Rosneft and Gazprom via his own law firm, makes him seem like an even more dangerous pick. It raises a serious concern: Does Trump want a Russia-friendly director leading the FBI?
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