Trump Administration Begins Search For New FBI Director

May 15, 2017
Originally published on May 15, 2017 4:40 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The firing of FBI Director James Comey was controversial, and the hiring of his replacement is on track to be, too. A stream of candidates went to the Justice Department over the weekend. And the list includes FBI veterans and some well-known politicians. President Trump says the process is moving rapidly. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is in the studio to talk more. Hey there, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: So - who far - who so far has actually interviewed for the job? Who has an inside track?

JOHNSON: There's a long line of people - Texas Senator John Cornyn, a Republican, and former Representative Mike Rogers, also a former FBI agent and the choice of the FBI Agents Association. Audie, there's also a bunch of people who served in the George W. Bush administration - Michael Garcia, the former U.S. attorney in Manhattan, now a judge; Alice Fisher, who led the Justice Department's Criminal Division in the W. Bush years; and Fran Townsend, who served in high national security posts for both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. There's also some current FBI folks - the acting director, Andrew McCabe, and agents Adam Lee and Bill Evanina.

CORNISH: Now, President Trump has suggested he could make a decision by the end of the week. But we know that he's leaving on his first big overseas trip, so how likely is that to come?

JOHNSON: That would be very, very quick. Usually there's a lot of vetting done, and there needs to be a comfort level. And also, there's a sense that the politics here are tricky and controversial, Audie. Remember, there have only been seven directors in FBI history - seven - and the last few have been confirmed with no or few negative votes in the Senate.

President Obama had such a hard time they had to ask the previous FBI director, Robert Mueller, to stay two extra years. And Democrats and Republicans are now saying they want President Trump's pick to have no background in electoral politics. They want that person to be independent and courageous, while President Trump tends to like people who are loyal to him.

CORNISH: We've been hearing that word, loyal, and loyalty so many times the last couple of days because there are still a lot of questions about how James Comey was fired. What's the latest that you've learned?

JOHNSON: Well, Comey has remained publicly silent so far. He emerged over the weekend to attend a play with his wife and played some golf with some of his kids on Sunday. He's thinking about speaking in public, looking for the right forum, and open to testifying on Capitol Hill. But nothing's been scheduled yet. There's the sense that he needs to clear the air and tell his side of the story about this surprise firing. President Trump has said that he was informed three times by James Comey that he was not under investigation. That's a little complicated. And friends of Jim Comey tell me they don't think the conversation went down quite that way.

CORNISH: Now, in the meantime, what do we know about the Russia investigation? What's the status there?

JOHNSON: Well, it's still going on, but quietly. Career lawyers and agents are still working on the case even though the FBI director has been fired. And senior FBI and Justice Department lawyers say, you know, they've declined to characterize it other than to say it's a high priority. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said over the weekend that it's a counterintelligence probe, not, at this point, a criminal investigation. No confirmation of that. And, of course, that can change at any moment with any new facts.

One that emerged recently is President Trump's claim that he has, quote, "tapes" of his meetings with James Comey. Lawmakers want recordings or transcripts if they do exist. Investigators are really going to want them, too. And today, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, was asked whether Trump recorded any of those conversations. Spicer's response was, quote, "the president has nothing further on that for now."

CORNISH: That's NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks so much.

JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.