WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump said Thursday (May 18) that he is “very close” to naming a new FBI director to replace the one he fired more than a week ago and that former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman was among his top choices for the job.
Mr Lieberman was among four candidates Mr Trump interviewed at the White House on Wednesday.
“We’re very close to an FBI director,” Mr Trump said when asked about the search during an Oval Office appearance with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. Mr Trump said “soon” when asked how close he is to making an announcement.
Mr Trump leaves Friday afternoon on his first overseas trip as president, a four-country, five-stop tour that will keep him out of Washington for more than a week. He has said he could name a director before he departs.
The president also replied “he is” when asked whether Mr Lieberman is a top candidate for the position.
Mr Lieberman gave reporters a thumbs-up as he left the White House on Wednesday and said he and Mr Trump had a “good meeting”. Mr Trump interviewed three other potential FBI director candidates the same day: Former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, former top FBI official Richard McFeely and Mr Andrew McCabe. Mr McCabe was tapped to become acting director after Mr Trump dismissed Mr Comey on May 9.
The firing was sharply criticised because it came amid the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential election.
“I cherish the FBI. It’s special,” Mr Trump said later Thursday at a joint news conference with Mr Santos. “All over the world, no matter where you go, the FBI is special.” He said the bureau hasn’t enjoyed “that special reputation” since during the presidential campaign.
Mr Trump also criticised Mr Comey for his performance during a recent appearance before Congress, and said Mr Comey’s replacement is “going to be outstanding”.
The Senate must confirm Mr Trump’s candidate for the job.
Senate Republicans praised Mr Lieberman, a Democrat turned independent, while Democrats were less effusive about their former colleague.
Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called Mr Lieberman a “pillar of credibility”. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No 2 Republican in the Senate, said Mr Lieberman “may be the only potential nominee that could get 100 votes that I know of. Everybody likes and respects Joe Lieberman.”
But several Democratic senators said during a caucus lunch Thursday that they would not support Mr Lieberman, according to a person familiar with the meeting who declined to be identified because the lunch was private.
Among their concerns was Mr Lieberman’s past praise of Mr Michael Flynn, Mr Trump’s first national security adviser, who was fired in February after misleading officials about his conversations with Russian officials. Mr Flynn has figured prominently in the FBI investigation into Russian interference into the election.
A Nov 25 news release from Mr Trump’s transition team quoted Mr Lieberman praising Mr Trump’s selection of Mr K T McFarland as deputy national security adviser. Mr Lieberman added that Mr McFarland “and General Mike Flynn will form a very strong leadership team at the National Security Council”.
Ms Neera Tanden, president of the Centre for American Progress, a Democratic think tank, also opposes Mr Lieberman, saying he lacks law enforcement experience and is close to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a former US senator. Mr Lieberman testified in support of Mr Sessions at his January confirmation hearing.
Mr Lieberman served in the Senate for more than two decades and was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000 with Al Gore, then the sitting vice president. Mr Lieberman lost his 2006 Democratic primary bid but won Senate re-election as a third-party candidate.
Mr Lieberman spoke at the 2008 Republican National Convention on behalf of his friend, Arizona Senator John McCain, and did not seek re-election in 2012. He has served as co-chairman of No Labels, a centrist group that promotes bipartisanship.
Mr Keating, a Republican, was a two-term governor of Oklahoma and led the state during the deadly 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City. A former FBI agent, Mr Keating served in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H W Bush.
Mr Keating, a former FBI agent, told The Oklahoman he does not expect to be chosen.
“If they wanted me, I certainly would be honoured, but I really don’t think that’s going to happen,” Mr Keating, 73, told the newspaper after his interview.
Mr McCabe, a veteran FBI official, made headlines for congressional testimony last week that rejected White House claims that Mr Comey had lost the support of rank-and-file agents. He also disputed the administration’s characterisation of the investigation into potential coordination between Russia and Trump associates.
Several candidates have withdrawn from consideration: Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina and Senator John Cornyn of Texas, both Republicans; Ms Alice Fisher, the former head of the Justice Department’s criminal division; and Mr Michael Garcia, a former US attorney from Manhattan. AP