The Justice Department on Wednesday called in four veteran law enforcement and intelligence officials for interviews to lead the FBI at least temporarily, as the administration tries to restore a sense of normalcy to an agency reeling from the sudden firing of its director.
For now, Andrew McCabe, who had been James B. Comey’s top deputy, is running the bureau, and Justice Department officials said it remains possible that he will stay in that post until a permanent replacement is selected. McCabe met with Justice Department officials Tuesday night and is scheduled to testify Thursday at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in place of Comey.
But Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein — the two officials who officially presented Trump with the argument for firing Comey this week — were also scheduled to talk to four other people on Wednesday.
They were Michael Anderson, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Chicago division; Adam Lee, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Richmond division; Paul Abbate, the executive assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch; and William “Bill” Evanina, the national counterintelligence executive in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Justice Department officials said.
The officials said the four men were being considered to serve only as interim director, although it was possible they would be under consideration to fill the post permanently. The permanent position requires Senate confirmation.
If one of them took over, McCabe could move back to the No. 2 post, a Justice Department official said.
Comey’s firing landed suddenly and without warning for most in the White House and at the FBI. The president dispatched an emissary to FBI headquarters to break the news — apparently not knowing that Comey was traveling in Los Angeles, one official said.
Ron Hosko, a former assistant director at the FBI who is now president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, said that aspect was particularly jarring — given Comey’s years of public service.
“A lot of people are shell-shocked,” he said, adding that he had spent time with FBI officials shortly after the announcement.
On Wednesday, inside the FBI, agents and officials tried to press forward with work as normal — though they remained anxious about what might come next.
A major question for the next FBI director will be how to handle the ongoing probe into any collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, as well as how to convince the public of the investigation’s independence. Trump can select whoever he feels is up to the job, though the person will require Senate confirmation.
Legislators on both sides of the aisle have called for a special counsel or other independent investigative body to take up the probe — though a special counsel would have to be approved by Rosenstein. At his confirmation hearing, Rosenstein resisted recusing himself from the matter, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions had done.
“I don’t know the details of what, if any, investigation is ongoing, but I can certainly assure you if it’s America against Russia, or America against any other country, I think everyone in this room knows which side I’m on,” Rosenstein said at the time.
Hosko said he expected the career agents and prosecutors to continue their work.
“I hope that they expose what needs to be exposed, no matter who it touches,” he said.
Justice Department and other officials familiar with the process said the administration is looking for an FBI director above reproach — though their assessment of that might differ greatly from Democrats’.
Among the names being talked about in Washington were Mark Filip and Larry Thompson, both former deputy attorneys general; Amy St. Eve, a federal judge in Illinois; Mike Luttig, Boeing’s general counsel; Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia who is now leading the Justice Department’s National Security Division; and John Pistole, a former Transportation Security Administration head and FBI deputy director who now serves as the president of Anderson University.
Justice Department officials said they hoped to nominate and install a replacement soon. The law says that an interim should serve no longer than 210 days, one Justice Department official said.
Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.