Opinion: A Georgia Republican makes an important stand

Christopher Wray is a Republican attorney and former federal prosecutor from Georgia. Under President George W. Bush, he served as head of the criminal division in the U.S. Department of Justice, and over the years he has contributed more than $50,000 to GOP candidates.

Last year, Wray resigned as a partner at King & Spalding to become director of the FBI, replacing the fired James Comey. President Trump, who named Wray to that job, lauded him as “an impeccably qualified individual, and I know that he will again serve his country as a fierce guardian of the law and model of integrity.”

This week, that “fierce guardian of the law and model of integrity” has been engaged in a public battle against the very president who appointed him, and in some ways against the party that had claimed his loyalty. The focus of that battle is a highly controversial “memo” drafted in secret by a cabal of House Republicans, supposedly based on highly classified material, that attempts to discredit the investigation into Russian meddling and the Trump campaign.

Wray is not alone. Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd — an Alabama Republican, a former congressional staffer for hard-core conservatives Jeff Sessions and Martha Robey and also a Trump political appointee — wrote to House Republicans that release of the memo would be “extraordinarily reckless.” In addition, Wray and others personally traveled to the White House to warn that the memo could result in the release of highly damaging classified material.

After Trump and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly indicated that they intend to release it anyway, Wray refused to fall silent. Instead, at Wray’s direction, the FBI released a rare public statement, again opposing release of the memo and expressing “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

Neither Wray nor Boyd played any role in the actions covered in the House memo, all of which took place well before they took their current jobs. They aren’t out to protect themselves, and they certainly aren’t trying to cover up a liberal conspiracy against a president of their own party and the man who appointed them, as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes has charged.

When they warn that the memo is highly misleading and that its release would endanger national security, they do so because that is their informed, professional opinion. When they dare to defy a president with a hair-trigger temper and a fierce demand for loyalty, when they make themselves targets for the conspiratorial right and endanger their own standing within the GOP, they do so because in their minds the risk to themselves is less important than the risk to the country.

Such courage and patriotism is pretty rare these days. Yes, a number of Republicans have tried to distance themselves from the memo and from the larger effort to protect Trump by depicting the FBI, the Department of Justice and Special Counsel Robert Mueller as corrupt, treasonous bureaucrats. They know it’s trouble. They know this is wrong. But instead of trying to protect their country and their party from such hysteria, they shrink into self-protective silence and hope the fever passes.

“These are the times that try men’s souls,” Thomas Paine once wrote. “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

So … thank you, Director Wray.

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