President Trump said that he could have a new FBI director in place before he departs for his first overseas trip Friday, an ambitious goal that would give him just a few days to fill one of the most important and sensitive posts in government.
“Even that is possible,” the president said aboard Air Force One when asked whether he might make a selection before leaving for Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican.
Trump briefly addressed journalists before flying to Lynchburg, Va., where he delivered a commencement speech at Liberty University. Justice Department officials spent the day conducting the first interviews for candidates to replace James B. Comey, whom Trump fired Tuesday.
Eight contenders interviewed on Saturday, including Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.); acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe; Alice Fisher, a white-collar defense lawyer who previously led the Justice Department’s criminal division; Michael J. Garcia, a judge on the New York State Court of Appeals who previously served as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York; Adam S. Lee, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Richmond field office; U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson, who presides over the Eastern District of Virginia; Frances Townsend, a former Bush Homeland Security adviser; and former House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers.
Rogers picked up the endorsement Saturday of the FBI Agents Association, the union representing active and retired agents. Rogers, a Republican, is also a former FBI special agent.
In a statement, association president Thomas F. O'Connor said Rogers's background “sets him apart.” The union also backed Rogers in 2013, the last time the FBI director position was open.
Fisher, who would be the first woman to lead the FBI if selected, was the first of the candidates to be interviewed, pulling into the Justice Department in a BMW just before 8 a.m. and leaving a little more than an hour later. She declined to comment.
Lee arrived at the Justice Department just before 1 p.m. He had been under consideration to take over the bureau on an interim basis, but an official said he is now interviewing for the permanent job. Lee did not answer questions as he walked into the building.
Just before 2 p.m., two black SUVs drove through security and into the Justice Department courtyard. An official said McCabe was aboard one of them. He was the third interviewee of the day.
By 5 p.m., Cornyn and Garcia had concluded their interviews, and Hudson was speaking with Justice Department officials.
Cornyn is the second-ranking Senate Republican and a strong defender of Trump, a president who often places a premium on loyalty. The New York Times reported Thursday that Trump asked Comey to pledge his loyalty to the president and that Comey refused. The White House disputed that account.
If loyalty is a key factor in the hiring decision, McCabe might be at a disadvantage. His allegiance appears to remain with Comey; in fact, McCabe in congressional testimony Thursday directly contradicted a White House claim that “the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director.”
“That is not accurate,” McCabe said. “He enjoyed broad support in the FBI and still does to this day.”
The candidates who were interviewed Saturday are among a nearly a dozen being considered, the AP reported. Trump told reporters that “we could make a fast decision” because “almost all of them are very well known.”
“They've been vetted over their lifetime, essentially, but very well known, highly respected, really talented people,” the president said. “And that's what we want for the FBI.”
Trump's pick will have to be confirmed by the Senate. FBI directors serve 10-year terms but can be removed at any time by the president, as Comey was.