May 19, 2017

Trump says Lieberman front-runner to head FBI

President Donald Trump on Thursday said former Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman is his top pick to replace ousted James Comey at the FBI.

Speaking to reporters while meeting with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Trump said he is "very close" to choosing a new FBI director. When asked if Lieberman, a Democrat turned independent, is his favorite choice, Trump said yes.

There has been no official White House announcement of the nomination, but one is expected soon. Trump said he'd like to name Comey's successor before he leaves Friday for his first overseas trip as president.

Trump interviewed Lieberman, 75, Wednesday at the White House. If his nomination is made official, Lieberman would have to be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, then confirmed by the full Senate.

Republicans were largely supportive of the idea of having Lieberman run the FBI. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, predicted the former Connecticut senator would receive all 100 Senate votes.

Cornyn was said to be Trump's first choice to lead the FBI. But the Texas senator withdrew from consideration after a number of his colleagues said they believed Trump should shy away from picking a GOP politician.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Lieberman is a "fine candidate," who would do a good job at the FBI.

But the idea of having Lieberman replace Comey did not engender much enthusiasm among Senate Democrats.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Judiciary Committee, declined to say whether he would support Lieberman if he becomes the nominee, but said the next FBI director should be someone "without political connections."

"The FBI director should be above politics and have experience in criminal justice," Blumenthal said.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., was blunter. She said the next FBI chief should be "someone who has not campaigned for political office."

"I don't think there's going to be much excitement about that from our side of the aisle. Not because we don't respect Joe Lieberman. But we need a law enforcement professional, not someone who's run for office before," McCaskill said.

Lieberman has run for a number of political jobs, including, unsuccessfully, president of the United States.

He served as Connecticut's U.S. senator for 24 years, retiring in 2013. His seat was won by Sen. Chris Murphy.

Lieberman was a longtime chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which has jurisdiction over the FBI, and ran unsuccessfully for vice president on the Democratic ticket headed by former Sen. Al Gore.

Lieberman became an independent after Connecticut voters defeated him in a Democratic primary, largely a result of his support of the Iraq war.

Since leaving the Senate, Lieberman has worked as an attorney for the New York law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres, whose founding partner, Marc Kasowitz, is Trump's lawyer on litigation issues.

Lieberman supported Trump rival Hillary Clinton in the race for the White House.

But he told NBC Connecticut that Trump's victory is a result of people's dissatisfaction with Washington.

"As the political system has failed to deliver for people, and people in our country have become more and more angry at Washington, it was just inevitable that somebody who was an outsider would come along," Lieberman said.

During the transition, Lieberman visited at least twice with the president at Trump Tower in New York City.

He helped Trump by introducing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — a controversial candidate — at her Senate confirmation hearing.

Lieberman is also in agreement with some of Trump's controversial positions, defending waterboarding by saying, "It's not like putting burning coals on people's bodies," and defending Trump's travel ban on Muslims, which federal courts have ruled unconstitutional.

The ACLU said Thursday it has "serious concerns" about Lieberman, who has supported expansive surveillance power for the government.

Trump also interviewed three other potential candidates to lead the FBI on Wednesday, including former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe, and Richard McFeely, a former top FBI official.

Several possible candidates besides Cornyn said they were not interested in the job. Those include Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland, whom GOP leaders floated as a possible candidate, despite having blocked his confirmation to the Supreme Court.

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