Who's On The Short List To Replace FBI Director James Comey?

May 15, 2017
Originally published on May 15, 2017 7:29 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's get now to what is probably the most high-profile vacancy in the U.S. government, head of the FBI. Top officials in the Justice Department spent the weekend interviewing possible candidates. This is of course after President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey right in the middle of an investigation into ties between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia. Yesterday on NBC's "Meet The Press," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina had some opinions about who should get the job.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

LINDSEY GRAHAM: These are not normal circumstances. We've got a chance to reset here as a nation. The president has a chance to clean up the mess that he mostly created. He really, I think, did his staff a disservice by changing the explanation. So I would encourage the president to pick somebody we can all rally around, including those who work in the FBI.

GREENE: Republican Senator Lindsey Graham there. Let's bring in NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson.

Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So it sounds like this job search is really moving along.

JOHNSON: Well underway. Nearly 15 candidates on the public list - current and former lawmakers, like Texas Senator John Cornyn, former Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers, who's also a former FBI agent and the pick of the FBI Agents Association. But David, members of Congress who sit on committees overseeing the FBI say they want to see someone with no history in politics whatsoever. The Russia investigation's too sensitive. The firing of FBI Director James Comey has been so badly handled by this White House, there's a need for somebody with independence. And top Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have been warm on the idea of Merrick Garland, a federal appeals court judge, a Democrat - David, President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court.

GREENE: Yeah, a name Washington knows well.

JOHNSON: Yeah - but a man who got not even a hearing from Republicans last year, so it's not clear whether this is real or trolling. In any event, President Trump says he could make the pick before he leaves on Friday for his first big overseas trip.

GREENE: So this could happen really quickly. Well, you know, Carrie, the president has been talking a lot about why he got rid of James Comey. I mean, Trump called the former FBI director a grandstander. He said that he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he made this decision. Have we heard anything from Comey?

JOHNSON: Not much yet, David. He's been keeping a low profile, although he and his wife did attend a play this weekend. The Senate intelligence committee had asked Comey to come testify this week behind closed doors. He said no, but sources close to Comey tell me he does want to tell his side of the story sooner rather than later. And his friends tell me he's expected to knock down comments from President Trump that Comey invited himself to the White House for dinner in January, asked to keep his job there and told Trump on three separate occasions that Trump was not under investigation. Now, David, this would be highly unorthodox, bordering on inappropriate, for the FBI and really is not James Comey's M.O.

GREENE: Well, the president suggested, though, that he might actually have made tapes or recordings of his conversations with the former FBI director. Is it possible that those tapes exist?

JOHNSON: It's possible something exists. In fact, there was no direct denial of recordings or transcripts from President Trump or his press secretary, Sean Spicer. And if any recordings or transcripts do exist, we're going to see and hear them eventually. Lawmakers have demanded to see them already from both political parties. They wanted the White House to preserve those materials. And if lawmakers and reporters find out there are recordings or transcripts and they have been destroyed, David, this cloud of smoke over Russia and the White House would turn into a forest fire. Certainly, a criminal investigation would get underway real fast.

GREENE: Well, we're going to see some folks from the Justice Department, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, going to Capitol Hill to explain Comey's firing and talk about what comes next. I mean, is Congress becoming sort of a hostile ground for the DOJ?

JOHNSON: Well, Congress - both chambers of Congress are controlled by Republicans, but Republicans are wary. Democrats have attacked Attorney General Sessions for playing a role in Comey's ouster when he's supposed to be recused from any investigations. And Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein - only his third week on the job and he's heading to the Hill this week for the second time to talk about the firing of James Comey, not a position you want your law enforcement leaders to be in at this stage of an administration, for sure.

GREENE: OK. Updating us on the firing of James Comey and the search for his replacement, NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks.

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