Joe Lieberman For F.B.I Director?
A seemingly unlikely name has emerged as the frontrunner for the position of Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, former Senator and 2000 Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee Joe Lieberman:
President Trump, 24 hours from his self-imposed deadline for picking a new F.B.I. director, told reporters on Thursday that he was “very close” to choosing a successor to James B. Comey, and he named Joseph I. Lieberman, the former Democratic senator and vice-presidential nominee, as a finalist.
But members of Mr. Trump’s staff — alarmed by his rapid embrace of Mr. Lieberman, a charming 75-year-old political operator with no federal law enforcement experience — have quietly urged him to take more time to make such a critical hire. By late Thursday, the president appeared increasingly likely to leave Friday for a nine-day foreign trip without picking a new director, according to three senior administration officials speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Mr. Lieberman, who served three terms in the Senate as a Democrat and one as an independent, would be an atypical choice to lead the F.B.I., whose agents prize the bureau’s independence as one of Washington’s few apolitical institutions. Judges and former prosecutors, not elected officials, have frequently been chosen.
Administration officials described the search as fluid and said the president and his team were keeping the decision-making process closely held to avoid the leaks that Mr. Trump believes are endemic to the West Wing.
Still, Mr. Trump, speaking briefly with reporters in the Oval Office as he met with President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, offered an emphatic “yes” when asked whether Mr. Lieberman was among the finalists.
“We need a great director of the F.B.I. I cherish the F.B.I. It’s special,” he told reporters later at a joint East Room news conference with Mr. Santos. “All over the world, no matter where you go, the F.B.I. is special. The F.B.I. has not had that special reputation with what happened in the campaign, what happened with respect to the Clinton campaign, and even, you could say — directly or indirectly — with respect to the much more successful Trump campaign.”
It was unclear whether the president’s acknowledgment that Mr. Lieberman was a finalist was intended to stoke the “Apprentice”-style frenzy of speculation he has favored with other high-profile picks, only to opt for a lesser-known candidate.
Mr. Trump is still seeking applicants, and some aides, along with many law enforcement officials, have suggested that he hire from within the agency to repair some of the damage to morale wrought by Mr. Comey’s sudden firing. Adam S. Lee, the well-regarded special agent in charge of the bureau’s Richmond, Va., field office, was interviewed, as were Richard A. McFeely, a former senior official at the F.B.I., and Andrew G. McCabe, the acting director.
Mr. McCabe, a veteran agent who joined the bureau in 1996 and once specialized in Russian organized crime, was named deputy director in 2016. It is not clear whether he will return to that role once Mr. Comey’s replacement is confirmed.
All three men are under consideration, the administration officials said, even if Mr. Lieberman, who was Al Gore’s running mate in the 2000 presidential campaign, is the front-runner.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Lieberman had good chemistry when they met privately, one White House aide said — a key ingredient for Mr. Trump in hiring people. He is also friendly with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a former senator, who has told Trump aides that Mr. Lieberman would most likely receive overwhelming support in the Senate.
Democrats pushed back hard on that notion, casting the conservative Mr. Lieberman as a Democrat in name only and noting that he publicly supported Mr. Trump’s pick of Michael T. Flynn as his first national security adviser. At a closed-door Democratic lunch on Thursday, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois urged party members to hold the line if he is selected.
But casting Mr. Lieberman as the most likely choice did have one immediate advantage: It appealed to Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who had suggested this week that the firestorm over Mr. Trump’s ouster of Mr. Comey was as bad as Watergate. Mr. McCain defended Mr. Lieberman, who endorsed his 2008 run for president.
Right off the bat, Lieberman seems like a strange pick for a position like F.B.I. Director for any number of reasons. Primarily, of course, there’s the fact that he has no prior experience in law enforcement notwithstanding the fact that nearly all of the previous holders of the position had some kind of background as either a law enforcement officer, a lower position inside the Bureau or some part of the Department of Justice, or as a former Federal Judge. Lieberman, by contrast, has never held a law enforcement position outside of serving as Attorney General of Connecticut from 1983 to 1989. The majority of Lieberman’s career has been spent in electoral politics, something that has not been true of any previous Director. Finally, Lieberman is 75 years old. Were he appointed and confirmed, he would be among the oldest people to ever take on the task of running the F.B.I. Whether he’s either qualified for, or up to the task, is truly an open question. Given all of that, the fact that he has somehow ended up at the top of Trump’s list for Director of the nation’s top law enforcement agency is odd to say the least. But then, this is Donald Trump and if the past 120 days have taught us anything it is to expect the unexpected.
In addition to the doubts I expressed above, there may be a possibility that Lieberman could not make it through the Senate:
President Donald Trump may be dramatically miscalculating how much support Sen. Joe Lieberman would have among his former Democratic colleagues if nominated to become FBI director.
Some Senate Democrats hold a grudge against Lieberman for his rightward turn and opposition to some of President Barack Obama’s agenda late in his Senate career. Others say even though they respect Lieberman, the job of FBI director should not go to a former politician. And all Democratic senators interviewed for this story said the former Connecticut senator lacks the kind of experience needed for the post.
candidate, who later caucused with the party as an independent in the Senate after losing his 2006 Senate primary, has emerged as a front-runner to replace fired FBI Director James Comey. But Lieberman’s nomination likely would produce the most partisan vote for an FBI chief in Senate history. Typically, nominees for the job have been approved unanimously or with token opposition.
“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,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). “We don’t need anyone who’s put on a red shirt or blue shirt — or who’s campaigned for president.” Lieberman ran for president in 2004.
Republicans are lining up behind Lieberman, who left the Senate in 2013 after four terms. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) called him a “person of unquestioned integrity and that’s what we need.” Added Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has spoken to Lieberman about the job: “If the president picked Joe Lieberman he’d be doing [the] country a good service and, I think, the FBI a good service.”
But Republicans seem to be overstating Lieberman’s Democratic support. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) predicted Lieberman would get 100 votes, a near impossibility.
But Lieberman’s relationship with Democrats is damaged. After he left office, he urged senators in his own party to reject Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, infuriating Democrats. And his relationship with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Graham — the trio were known as the “three amigos” — tilted the Senate in a more hawkish direction during the first four years of Obama’s presidency. In 2008, Lieberman endorsed McCain over Obama for president.
“He has a history of angering Democrats and Republicans, which is probably a good experience for being FBI director. But my concern is about someone with a political background. This is a moment for someone with a law enforcement background,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who holds Lieberman’s old seat. “It’s really important to restore people’s faith in the FBI.”
Lieberman could conceivably be confirmed without Democratic support, of course. Thanks to the removal of the sixty-vote rule for Presidential appointments, Republicans can confirm him by a simple majority without a single Democrat supporting him. Of course, this also means that it would take mere a handful of Republicans to object to Lieberman’s appointment for it to be scuttled as well and we haven’t really heard from many Republicans on the possibility that Lieberman would be Trump’s pick for this position. As many have pointed out, though, most previous F.B.I. Directors have been confirmed on a bipartisan basis, usually with a unanimous or near-unanimous vote. A party-line vote would mean that Lieberman would enter office under a cloud at a time when the Bureau clearly needs a solid leader to address the controversies that it has become too political in recent years, as meritless as those might be. Having a Director that was rejected by nearly half the Senate would be problematic for a position that was in many senses meant to be above politics.
In any case, we may know sooner rather than later whether Lieberman is indeed Trump’s choice for F.B.I. Director despite all the arguments against him. The President leaves for his first foreign trip, a trip that will take him to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Vatican City, and then on to Belgium and Sicily to take part in back-to-back multinational summit meetings. Yesterday, some White House sources were hinting that he could name his pick before leaving on that trip, which would be an announcement late this morning or early this afternoon.
Update: NBC News is reporting that there will be no announcement of a new F.B.I. Director today, meaning that we won’t hearing anything about a new director for at least ten days while Trump is overseas:
No FBI director nominee announcement Friday, White House officials say – @HansNichols
— NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) May 19, 2017
Does this mean that the Lieberman trial balloon has popped?