WASHINGTON – The two top officials at the Justice Department have interviewed eight candidates to replace the fired James Comey amid demands from lawmakers of both parties for Donald Trump to turn over any recordings he may have made of his meetings with the former FBI director.
Washington continued to be roiled by Trump’s firing of Comey on May 9, citing frustrations with the FBI director’s conduct. Comey was in charge of the agency’s investigation into whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in that country’s attempts to interfere with the U.S. presidential election last year. Trump’s tweet that Comey had “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations” has added to the turmoil.
Over the weekend, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein met with the eight candidates for permanent FBI director, and no more interviews are currently scheduled, according to a U.S. official familiar with the process. The potential nominees are:
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas
Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe
Former Justice Department official Alice Fisher
Michael Garcia, a former U.S. Attorney in Manhattan
Fran Townsend, who was homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush
U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson
Adam Lee, the FBI special agent in charge of the Richmond, Va., office
Mike Rogers, a former FBI special agent and Republican congressman from Michigan who was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Rogers was endorsed over the weekend by the FBI Agents Association, which represents rank-and-file agents. The group said “it is essential that the next FBI director understand the details of how agents do their important work.”
While members of Congress are usually quick to back colleagues for presidential appointments, even the choice of a current or former lawmaker may produce resistance because of the controversy over Comey’s dismissal.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, speaking on NBC, said Trump now “has a duty and obligation to pick somebody beyond reproach outside the political lane” to lead the FBI.
Asked about his colleague Cornyn, Graham said, “It’s now time to pick someone who comes from within the ranks or has such a reputation that has no political background at all that can go into the job on day one.”
Even the interview process for Comey’s replacement prompted debate.
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday” that it’s “inappropriate” for Sessions to participate in the interviews because the attorney general recused himself from oversight of the Russian meddling investigation after failing to disclose meetings he had with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.
Warner also said he’d like to see Comey testify at a public session of his committee. The senator hinted the ousted FBI chief is interested in doing so, after turning down a request to appear behind closed doors.
“My expectation is that we will get a chance to hear from him in public,” Warner said.
Some Republicans joined Democrats in voicing concern that Comey was fired as he led an investigation into the Trump campaign.
“Once you get to a place where there is an active investigation, the FBI director is not supposed to be in a political chain of command and that’s the appearance of this situation and its timing,” Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, told CBS News on Monday. “The timing is very troubling.”
Trump added another layer of intrigue to his dismissal of Comey with his posting on Twitter on Friday, suggesting that he may have recorded their conversation and that he should keep that in mind “before he starts leaking to the press!”
Trump’s tweet led some Republicans to join their Democratic counterparts in calling for any recordings to be preserved and turned over.
“It’s time to call the FBI director before the country at large and explain what happened at that dinner,” Graham, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said. Referring to a White House dinner in January at which Comey associates have told several media outlets that Trump asked him for a loyalty pledge, Graham added, “And if there are any tapes, they have to be turned over. You can’t be cute about tapes.”
Warner said he would “absolutely” want the Senate to subpoena the White House to produce any recordings made by the Trump administration that are relevant to the Comey firing or the Russia matter. “We have to make sure that these tapes, if they exist, don’t mysteriously disappear,” Warner said.
Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah said on “Fox News Sunday” that if there are recordings, it is “inevitable” that they will be subpoenaed and have to be turned over.
White House officials declined to say whether tapes exist. Asked about the existence of such recordings during an interview with Fox News that aired Saturday, Trump said, “That I can’t talk about. I won’t talk about that. All I want is for Comey to be honest.”
The Washington Post reported on Saturday that Trump regularly recorded his conversations as a businessman.
Once Trump makes his choice for FBI director, the nominee must go through a confirmation hearing and floor vote in the Senate. While Republicans control Congress, members of both parties have said they will ask tough questions about the nominee’s independence.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said he supports calls to block the appointment of a new FBI director until a special prosecutor is named to oversee the Russian meddling investigation.
“There are a lot of Democrats who feel that way,” Schumer said on CNN. “We will have to discuss it as a caucus, but I would support that move, because who the FBI director is, is related to who the special prosecutor is.”
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