President Donald Trump stepped up the search yesterday for a new FBI director after his abrupt firing of James Comey, but Democrats are threatening to throw up roadblocks unless a special prosecutor is named to probe team Trump’s ties to Russia.
Trump has said he wants to move swiftly on replacing Comey, whose shock dismissal triggered accusations that the president is trying to obstruct an FBI probe into whether his campaign colluded with Russia to tilt the November election his way.
A dozen different names are being mentioned in US media as candidates to replace Comey. Politico puts the number at 14.
“Almost all of them are very well known. They’ve been vetted over their lifetime, essentially. But very well known, highly respected, really talented people,” Trump said at the weekend.
He said he might make a decision before leaving late in the week on his first major international trip, to the Middle East and Europe.
The possible candidates include men and women with experience in law enforcement or national security, and others more associated with politics.
Among the group are the current acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, senior Republican Senator John Cornyn, New York judge Michael Garcia, former Justice Department official Alice Fisher, former presidential adviser Fran Townsend, Republican former congressman Mike Rogers, and Trey Gowdy, who led a congressional panel that probed the attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya in 2012.
Trump’s pick to succeed Comey will have to first appear at hearings before a Senate panel, before their nomination is put to a vote in the entire Republican-controlled Senate.
But Democratic lawmakers are making such a vote contingent on the Justice Department naming a special prosecutor to probe Russia’s alleged interference in the US election — and the question of possible collusion with Trump’s campaign.
“To have that special prosecutor, people would breathe a sigh of relief, because then there would be a real independent person overlooking the FBI director,” Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday.
The Democrats cannot actually prevent a Senate vote on a new FBI director.
But they could delay it with foot-dragging measures, and that would be rare for a vote on the FBI chief.
Such nominations tend to get support from both parties.
As it stands, Republican leaders do not support the naming of a special prosecutor in the Russia affair.
But that does not mean they are happy with the way Trump has been behaving lately.
The White House is keeping a close eye on how firm Republican support for Trump is.
Some Republicans are upset with Trump for admitting he had the FBI’s Russia probe in mind when he fired Comey.
Trump is described as livid over seeing his name mentioned constantly in connection with the investigation when, according to the president himself and several lawmakers, he is not a target of the probe.
The president insinuated in a tweet last week that he has tapes of conversations he held with Comey.
That got Washington — rattled and surprised almost daily by the shoot-from-the-hip Trump presidency — into a veritable lather.
The Washington Post quoted former Trump business associates and journalists as saying they have long suspected that Trump bugged his own phone calls.
If such tapes do actually exist, under the law Trump cannot destroy or hide them.
“But this Tweet has to be answered. I would advise the president not to Tweet or comment about the investigation as we go forward,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Sunday.
“I have no evidence of collusion. But the president needs to back off here and let the investigation go forward.
We need to call Comey and get to the bottom of all of this,” Graham added.
He said the next FBI director should be “beyond reproach” and be free of political trappings so as to ensure an independent probe of the Russia affair.
Democrats are asking the White House to release any tapes Trump may have made so as to determine if he tried to intimidate Comey or even obstruct justice.
Said Graham: “If there are any tapes, they have to be turned over.”
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