Trump’s attacks put new FBI director in tough spot

WASHINGTON (AP) — Christopher Wray faces a tough test four months into his leadership of the FBI: He must defend America’s top law enforcement agency against blistering attacks from President Donald Trump without putting his own job at risk.

The competing pressures Wray faces will be on display Thursday when he testifies before the House Judiciary Committee. Democrats may push him to respond forcefully to Trump’s weekend tweets calling the FBI a biased agency whose reputation is “in Tatters — worst in History!” and urging Wray to “clean house.”

Republicans will likely echo Trump’s concerns about what they see as political bias in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election. Like Trump, they have seized on revelations that an FBI agent was removed from Mueller’s team because of anti-Trump text messages.

Wray’s start as FBI head would have been difficult enough, even without the intense scrutiny of the Russia investigation. Since he was sworn-in Aug. 2, the U.S. has had two of the deadliest shootings in its modern history and a terror attack in Manhattan.

Trump’s weekend tweets created a fresh dilemma for Wray. With his bosses, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy Rod Rosenstein, staying publicly silent, it fell to Wray to defend the agency. But FBI directors traditionally have been low-key and stoic — with Wray’s predecessor, James Comey, a notable exception. And Trump’s firing of Comey while he led the Russia probe shows the risk of antagonizing the president.

Wray’s defense, in an email to FBI employees this week, didn’t directly mention Trump’s comments, leaving some current and former officials wishing he had pushed back more forcefully.

Wray said he was “inspired by example after example of professionalism and dedication to justice demonstrated around the bureau” and urged agents to “keep focused on our critical mission” while constantly under a microscope.