Former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman has withdrawn from consideration for the role of FBI director, becoming the latest contender to pull out of a search process that President Donald Trump said a week ago was moving quickly.
Lawyers, law enforcement officials, judges and politicians have interviewed either with the Justice Department or the White House for the director’s job, which became open with Trump’s May 9 firing of James Comey.
Lieberman, a former Democratic presidential candidate, interviewed with Trump last week and was acknowledged by the president to be a leading candidate. But the buzz around his candidacy fizzled after Trump left for his foreign trip last Friday without naming his pick.
He likely would have faced a challenging confirmation process because of his lack of law enforcement experience and opposition from many in Congress to placing a political figure atop the FBI. Though a longtime Democratic senator, he almost certainly would have run into Democratic opposition in the Senate over his support for Republican presidential candidate John McCain in 2008 and his words of praise for Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Lieberman withdrew himself from consideration in a letter to the White House made public Thursday. He said that though he was honored to have been considered, he wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest given Trump’s hiring of one of Lieberman’s law partners, Marc Kasowitz, to represent him in an ongoing federal investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
The White House declined to comment.
Several other people interviewed for the job have also withdrawn from consideration, including Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, former U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia and Alice Fisher, the former head of the Justice Department’s criminal division.
Others who have interviewed for the job include current acting director Andrew McCabe; former Republican Rep. Michael Rogers, who has been endorsed by the FBI Agents Association; former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating; and Fran Townsend, the homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to President George W. Bush.
Frank Montoya, a former FBI official, said that whoever is selected for the job will need to have integrity, independence and a willingness to stand up to Trump, who has been reported to have asked Comey to pledge his loyalty to him.
“He’s going to demand things that are inappropriate to demand,” Montoya said.
When Comey was fired earlier this month, the White House cited as justification a Justice Department memo that criticized his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. But Trump himself has since acknowledged that he was thinking about “this Russia thing” when he fired Comey, and the author of the memo, Rod Rosenstein, said he wrote the memo after learning that Trump intended to dismiss Comey.
The Justice Department has since appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to head up the Russia investigation. It’s possible Mueller, given his long career at the FBI and his important job now, will be seen by some as a surrogate FBI director, Montoya said.
“If that helps the institution recover from the blow the FBI suffered when Comey was fired,” Montoya said, “that’s not a bad thing.”