Four candidates on shortlist for new FBI director as acrimony builds over James Comey's sacking

Acting director and Texan senator in running to replace James Comey

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The Independent US

Senator John Cornyn, the second-ranking Senate Republican who has in recent weeks become a more outward defender of President Donald 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 Comey, whom Mr Trump suddenly fired earlier this week, the people said.

The others are Alice Fisher, a white-collar defence lawyer who previously led the Justice Department's criminal division, and Michael 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 Rosenstein, the two top officials in the Justice Department.

The list is not a comprehensive accounting of finalists for the FBI director positions. 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, though it is possible Mr McCabe could stay on in that role if he were not selected for the permanent job.

The job also requires Senate confirmation. Whoever is selected is appointed to a 10-year term, though they can be removed by the president.

Trump's sudden removal of Mr Comey from the position this week set off a political firestorm in Washington, fuelling 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 he was thinking of the Russia controversy when he decided to fire Mr Comey. Previously, White House officials said he was acting on the recommendation of the top Justice Department officials, particularly a memo from Rosenstein that had criticised Mr Comey for his handling of the investigation into former secretary of state Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server.

Trump said, though, that he would have removed Mr Comey no matter the advice from Mr Rosenstein or Mr Sessions.

Mr Cornyn, 65, is a former Texas attorney general and state supreme court justice and is serving his third term in the Senate. He serves as 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.

 

Mr Cornyn is not expected to challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is not term-limited and is widely respected among Republican senators. That means Mr 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 Mr 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.

Mr Cornyn has in recent weeks become more of an outward defender of Mr Trump. Earlier this week, he dismissed the idea that Mr Trump fired Mr Comey to impede the FBI's Russia probe, terming it 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."

The senator's confirmation would be assured because of Democratic rules changes in 2013 that only require a simple majority. But Democratic strategists have already put senators on notice they would hold their feet to the fire in voting against Mr Cornyn.

Spokespeople for Mr Cornyn did not immediately respond to emails Friday night. Asked previously if he would be willing to serve as FBI director, Mr Cornyn said with a smile, "I'm happy serving my state and my country in my present position."

One person familiar with Mr Cornyn's thinking told The Washington Post that his meeting with Mr Sessions on Saturday was not billed as an interview and instead about the "next steps" for the FBI.

Mr Cornyn was scheduled to deliver the commencement address Saturday at Texas Southern University in Houston, but university officials on Friday cancelled his appearance at the historically black college after a petition signed by hundreds of students protested his appearance.

The university said it asked Mr Cornyn to visit at a later date. The senator's office said on Friday that he respected the decision and looked forward to visiting in the future.

Mr McCabe, who had been the FBI deputy director before Mr 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 minimise 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.

Ms Fisher and Mr Garcia are both alumni of the George W. Bush administration. Mr Garcia served as assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and as the U.S. attorney for the Souther District of New York, where he led the investigation into a prostitution ring that ultimately forced New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer to resign.

Ms Fisher served as an assistant attorney general, and, if selected, would be the first woman to run the FBI.

Efforts to reach both of them were not successful on Friday night.

The Washington Post's Paul Kane contributed to this report.

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