Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), the second-ranking Senate Republican, who has in recent weeks become a more outward defender of President Trump, and acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, who on Thursday contradicted the Trump White House on a range of topics, will interview Saturday to serve as the FBI’s permanent director, according to people familiar with the matter.
The men are two of at least four people who will interview to replace James B. Comey, whom Trump suddenly fired this week, the people said.
The others are Alice Fisher, a white-collar defense lawyer who previously led the Justice Department’s criminal division, and 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.
All four will be interviewed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, the two top officials in the Justice Department.
The list is not a comprehensive accounting of finalists for the FBI director position. It is possible other candidates could be considered, officials said, and the ultimate decision falls to Trump. Justice Department officials also have interviewed four other candidates to serve as interim FBI director, although it is possible that McCabe could stay on in that role if he were not selected for the permanent job at the top.
The job also requires Senate confirmation. Whoever is selected is appointed to a 10-year term, although the person can be removed by the president.
Trump’s sudden removal of Comey from the position set off a political firestorm in Washington, fueling fears that the president was trying to stifle the bureau’s probe into possible coordination between his campaign and Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.
Trump acknowledged in an interview with NBC News published Thursday that he was thinking of the Russia controversy when he decided to fire Comey. Previously, White House officials said he was acting on the recommendation of the top two Justice Department officials, particularly a memo from Rosenstein that had criticized Comey for his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
Trump said, though, that he would have removed Comey no matter the advice from Rosenstein or Sessions.
Cornyn, 65, is a former Texas attorney general and state supreme court justice and is serving his third term in the Senate. He is the Senate majority whip, making him the second-ranking Republican in the chamber. But GOP senators set term limits for leadership posts, and his ends at the start of 2019.
Cornyn is not expected to challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is not term-limited and is widely respected among Republican senators. That means Cornyn is on the verge of hitting a professional ceiling, so the 10-year term of FBI director might be a logical next move.
If Cornyn were selected, there likely would be Democratic concern about handing over the nation’s premier law enforcement agency to a Republican who — despite being considered an affable senator — has served as a prominent partisan attack dog.
Cornyn has in recent weeks become more of an outward defender of Trump. This week, he dismissed the idea that Trump fired Comey to impede the FBI’s Russia probe, terming the idea a “phony narrative.”
“If you assume that, this strikes me as a lousy way to do it,” he said. “All it does is heighten the attention given to the issue.”
If he were nominated, his confirmation would be assured because of Democratic rules changes in 2013 that require only a simple majority. But Democratic strategists have already put their party’s senators on notice that they will hold their feet to the fire to ensure they vote against a Cornyn confirmation.
Spokesmen for Cornyn did not immediately respond to emails Friday night. Asked previously whether he would be willing to be FBI director, Cornyn said with a smile, “I’m happy serving my state and my country in my present position.”
One person familiar with Cornyn’s thinking told The Washington Post that his meeting with Sessions on Saturday was not billed as an interview and instead was about the “next steps” for the FBI.
Cornyn was to have delivered the commencement address Saturday at Texas Southern University in Houston, but university officials on Friday canceled his visit to the historically black college after a petition signed by hundreds of students protested his appearance.
The university said it asked Cornyn to visit at a later date. The senator’s office said Friday that he respected the decision and looked forward to visiting in the future.
McCabe, who had been the FBI deputy director before Comey was fired, might be a more palatable choice for Democrats. At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Thursday, he heaped praise on his former boss and did not hesitate to rebut narratives advanced by the White House, including its attempt to minimize the importance of the Russia probe. He is a longtime FBI agent who led the Washington Field Office before he was elevated to the bureau’s No. 2 post in 2016.
Through an FBI spokesman, he declined to comment.
Fisher and Garcia are both alumni of the George W. Bush administration. Garcia served as assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, where he led the investigation into a prostitution ring that ultimately forced New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer to resign.
Fisher served as an assistant U.S. attorney general, and, if selected, would be the first woman to run the FBI.
Efforts to reach both of them Friday night were unsuccessful.
Paul Kane contributed to this report.