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Trump's FBI pick says Russia probe is no 'witch hunt'

WASHINGTON:  President Donald Trump's pick to head the FBI, Christopher Wray, yesterday said he would refuse to pledge loyalty to Mr Trump.

He also rejected Mr Trump's description of the probe into Russian election meddling as a "witch hunt", and vowed to quit if asked by the president to do something unlawful.

Mr Wray, nominated by Mr Trump on June 7 to replace the fired James Comey as Federal Bureau of Investigation director, sought to stake out independence from the president and protect the agency from partisan political influence.

He even said it would be "highly unlikely" he would agree to meet Mr Trump in a one-on-one situation, as Mr Comey reluctantly did.

Mr Wray, who seemed headed for US Senate approval to fill the 10-year post, testified during a 4½-hour Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing amid an uproar in Washington over 2016 e-mails released on Tuesday involving the president's son, Mr Donald Trump Jr.

The e-mails showed the Republican president's son agreeing last year to meet a woman he was told was a Russian government lawyer who might have damaging information about Democratic White House rival Hillary Clinton as part of Moscow's official support for his father.

Mr Wray deflected specific questions from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham about the president's son's e-mails, saying he had not read them.

But he said: "Any threats or effort to interfere with our election from any nation-state or any non-state actor is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know."

Mr Trump's son did not notify the FBI and wrote "I love it" about the Russian's offer of information on Mrs Clinton.

Mr Trump fired Mr Comey on May 9, igniting a political firestorm, and later cited the "Russia thing" as his reason.

Eight days later, the Justice Department appointed Mr Robert Mueller to serve as special counsel to investigate alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race to help Mr Trump win and potential collusion between Moscow and Mr Trump's associates.

The Russia matter has dogged the president's first six months in office. Mr Wray said he had no reason to doubt the US intelligence community's conclusion that Russia interfered in part by hacking and releasing e-mails damaging to Mrs Clinton, a claim Moscow denies.

Mr Wray worked at the Justice Department under Republican former President George W. Bush, when Mr Comey was deputy attorney-general and Mueller was FBI director.

Mr Wray also represented New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in a political scandal.

Mr Trump has called the Russia probe a "witch hunt".

"I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt," Mr Wray told Mr Graham.

Mr Wray said he was "very committed" to supporting Mr Mueller's investigation, calling him "somebody I have enormous respect for". - REUTERS

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