President Trump was meeting Wednesday with four candidates to succeed James B. Comey as FBI director, including former senator Joe Lieberman, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said.
In addition to Lieberman, the president was to meet with former Oklahoma governor Frank A. Keating, who worked previously as a U.S. attorney and as the No. 3 official in the Justice Department; Richard A. McFeely, a former FBI official who spent more than two decades in the bureau; and acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, who has taken over for Comey in the short term.
Last Saturday, top Justice Department officials interviewed eight people — though Lieberman, Keating and McFeely were not among the names made public that day. A Justice Department official said the attorney general has now also met with them. It was not immediately clear how many candidates Trump plans to interview.
Trump has said he could make a “fast decision” on who will take over the top role at the nation’s premier law enforcement agency — perhaps even deciding before he leaves for a foreign trip Friday. The position is particularly important because the FBI is leading the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin to influence the outcome.
A few people have already removed their names from consideration. Alice Fisher, a former Justice Department official now in private practice at Latham & Watkins, became the latest to do so Wednesday. A person close to her said in a statement that Fisher, who interviewed with Justice Department officials Saturday, was “honored and humbled to have been considered,” but she had decided not to move forward.
“While she had productive discussions with those working on the nomination, she determined that she would not proceed,” the person said. “She has tremendous respect for the Justice Department and deeply values the hard work that the men and women at the bureau and throughout the department do every day to protect the American public. She will do all she can to help support the president’s nominee as they take on this incredibly important national security and public safety role.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who also interviewed Saturday, already had bowed out, and Judge Merrick Garland, whose nomination to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama was blocked by Senate Republicans, conveyed through associates that he was not interested in the job. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was among those saying Garland should be considered — though he was not included in the group that interviewed Saturday.
Whoever Trump picks will have to win Senate confirmation, and that will likely require demonstrating a willingness to be independent of Trump. Former director Comey alleged in a memo — the details of which were made public Tuesday — that Trump asked him to shut down an FBI investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Trump fired Comey from his post last week.
Of those on the latest list, Lieberman might be the most controversial — even though he identified as a Democrat for most of his political career and was even the party’s nominee for vice president in 2000. He ran unsuccessfully for president in 2004 and became an independent in 2006.
Legislators on both sides of the aisle have expressed wariness about having a politician lead the FBI, and a Senate Democratic leadership aide said Lieberman would not be exempt from that.
Lieberman was Connecticut’s attorney general decades ago.
“There couldn’t be a worse time to take the unprecedented step of handing the FBI over to a politician,” the aide said. “That includes Senator Lieberman.”
As a former governor, Keating could also be considered a politician, but he also has Justice Department credentials, having worked as an FBI agent, U.S. attorney and associate attorney general. He confirmed in an email he had talked to the president and added: “The conversation was pleasant. It was in the Oval Office with the AG and the Veep in attendance. The list is probably long. I am flattered to be a bridesmaid. The wedding will be special!”
McFeely retired from the FBI in 2014; most recently, he led the Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch. He was the lead case agent on the Oklahoma City federal building bombing in 1995, when Keating was governor, and he was the FBI’s on-scene commander after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon.
McCabe seems an unlikely choice. At a recent congressional hearing, he contradicted the White House on a number of critical topics and asserted that he considered the probe of possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump team during the 2016 election campaign a “highly significant investigation.”
But he also said there had been “no effort to impede our investigation to date” — which would seem to be good news for a White House that now faces suggestions that the president might have attempted to obstruct justice. Through a spokesman, McCabe declined to comment for this report. Efforts to reach McFeely and Lieberman were not immediately successful.