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SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Orrin Hatch referenced the Hillary Clinton email scandal Wednesday in quizzing FBI director nominee Christopher Wray on how he would handle the disclosure of classified information.
The Utah Republican also used his time in Wray's confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee to get his support on several of his own issues, including encryption, child protection and rapid DNA testing.
But first Hatch warned Wray, who spent the past 12 years as a high-powered private sector attorney, what he's in for as head of the top federal law enforcement agency.
"This is going to be an interesting life. I’m not sure it’s going to be a nice life," Hatch told Wray during the hearing. Hatch pledged full support for Wray.
President Donald Trump nominated Wray, 50, to replace James Comey. Trump abruptly terminated Comey while he was leading a criminal investigation into whether the president's advisers colluded with the Russian government to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.
The committee's top two members — Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat — said in their opening statements that they wanted to ensure Wray would maintain the FBI's independence under possible political pressure.
"My loyalty is to the Constitution, the rule of law and to the mission of the FBI,” Wray said. “No one asked me for any kind of loyalty oath at any point during this process. I sure as heck didn’t offer one."
Noting the FBI investigated former Secretary of State Clinton's unclassified email server, Hatch asked Wray how he would handle the disclosing of top-secret information.
Wray, a former federal prosecutor in President George W. Bush’s administration, said he found it eye-opening in his previous government service how much intelligence comes from overseas. He said the U.S. can't lose its allies' confidence and leave them unwilling to share.
"If that dries up, we’re in a world of hurt," he said. "I think those things need to be treated very severely and investigated very aggressively."
Hatch's other questions went to specific issues or legislation he is working on starting with encryption, the process of encoding a message or information so only authorized parties can access it.
The senator said encryption technology is essential to protecting consumers’ privacy and keeping America’s tech sector at the forefront of global innovation. Proposals for so-called "back doors" into encrypted devices are not the answers, he said.
Hatch said he favors a public-private partnership among Congress, law enforcement and industry to find a path forward.
Wray said he doesn't know what the solution is but said he would look into the issue to find one.
"There is a balance, obviously, that has to be struck between the importance of encryption that I think we all can respect when there are so many threats to our system and the importance of giving law enforcement the tools they lawfully need to keep us all safe," Wray said.
Hatch also sought Wray's commitment to protect children from predators by allowing organizations that serve youth access to FBI background checks. The House passed such legislation, and Hatch and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., are taking it up in the Senate.
My loyalty is to the Constitution, the rule of law and to the mission of the FBI. No one asked me for any kind of loyalty oath at any point during this process. I sure as heck didn’t offer one.
–Christopher Wray, FBI director nominee
Wray promised to find a way to support those efforts.
Hatch also asked Wray about his bill allowing law enforcement to use rapid DNA technology, which can produce results in about two hours. The proposal would allow samples collected in the field to be connected to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, a national database that houses DNA profiles from federal, state and local forensic laboratories.
Wray said he's not up to speed on DNA technology but would favor something that helps ensure the right people are prosecuted and the wrong people are not.
"It strikes me as just good sense law enforcement to come up with a way to make that tool readily available and more rapidly available," he said.