FBI Director Christopher Wray does not have an easy job. Sure, he’s gone along with Trump’s purge of everyone who ever cracked a Trump joke—including cutting off former acting Director Andrew McCabe just hours before his pension kicked in—but Wray has also shown signs of actually caring about the work done by the bureau. And that’s not a good fit for the Trump White House.
Just how bad that fit really is became obvious this week when, in just a couple of minutes’ worth of television interview, Donald Trump completely exploded the program to deflect foreign interference from U.S. elections, a program Wray had been working almost two years to implement. As Politico reports, Trump’s quick admission that he would have no problem taking information about a political opponent, and that mentioning this fact to the FBI was something Trump considered optional, has undone months of work, invited foreign spies to meddle in 2020, and “demoralized the agents trying to stop them.”
It’s also put Wray in a box with just three exits: do nothing and let the program fall apart; publicly disagree with Trump and risk being fired; or abandon the pretext that it’s possible to work for both Trump and the law and simply resign.
Throughout the last two years—and throughout his life—Trump has called parts of the law “unfair” and treated them with disdain. That’s especially true of laws like those against discrimination in housing, or those that mandate safety regulations for buildings or fair labor practices, or those that require that people pay taxes. Basically, anything that affects Trump’s bottom line or takes a minute of his time is suspect. In just the past week, Trump hasn’t just declared that he has no problem accepting a thing of value from a foreign government if it helps him remain in power; he’s also made it clear that has no intention of enforcing the Hatch Act or cooperating with congressional oversight.
Laws are for other people. Little people. Robert Mueller’s investigators may have declared that they didn’t have sufficient evidence to “charge a broad conspiracy” with Russia in 2016. Trump is making it clear that it doesn’t take a broad conspiracy, because his door is always open to direct influence. What will Christopher Wray do now?
Wray has presided over a department under continuous attack not just from Trump, but from his proxies in Congress and the media. The litany of wild charges and claims about “silent coups” and “insurance policies” within the department is occasionally broken by a bland statement that Republicans still “support the rank and file” at the FBI. By that they mean they support theoretical FBI agents. Not real ones. Or at least, not anyone they’ve actually heard about. Trump certainly has a good reason for attacking, since anyone dedicated to finding out the truth or working toward justice is on a collision course with him.
It may be that Wray has convinced himself that he has to stay. After all, look at what happened to the Justice Department for an example of “No matter how bad things are, they can always get worse.” If Wray leaves, Trump will be free to pick a director as open to his whims as William Barr has been in the role of attorney general. Maybe Wray feels he’s the last guy standing between Trump and the final decline of the FBI.
But he’s not. Standing, that is. Wray is sitting silently, allowing Trump to impugn not just his agency, but the whole idea of his agency. He may feel that he’s still doing some good. That things are not that dire. After all, it’s not as if Trump has issued direct orders to disassemble the election interference task force. He’s just making it a pointless laughingstock.
One thing is clear: Wray either publicly chastises Trump and risks being pushed aside, or steps away on his own and makes the reason clear. Because taking that third door, the “do nothing” door, isn’t really doing nothing. It’s doing permanent damage to the FBI.