UPDATED: May 10, 2017, 12:35 p.m.
The White House left Washington stunned Tuesday when it announced that President Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey, who was actively investigating links between the administration and Russia. The move appeared to have taken everyone by surprise – including Comey himself – and while the White House has said the search for Comey’s replacement is underway, there is no clear indication when the position will be filled — or who will fill it.
Though the firing was ostensibly done to “restore trust” in the FBI, the White House did not name a replacement for Comey but rather said the search would “begin immediately.” The decision “took even top officials by surprise,” according to one source speaking to Reuters, who added that those same officials have no idea who the White House might be seeing as a replacement.
Temporary leadership of the FBI falls to Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a 21-year veteran of the bureau who previously led the organization’s counterterrorism and national security divisions.
It took Trump just a week to announce H.R. McMaster as his new national security adviser following the firing of Michael Flynn in February — though the process to find a permanent replacement for Comey is likely to take much longer and likely be more politically charged.
Some have suggested the president will replace Comey with an acolyte who will shut down the investigation into links between the Trump campaign and Russia, but appointing a new FBI director is not that straightforward.
Any nomination from the White House will need to be confirmed by the Senate, and traditionally choices have been bipartisan. Indeed, Comey was the first FBI director to have a vote cast against him in the Senate, when Sen. Rand Paul voted no on his appointment in 2013.
The GOP has a 52-48 majority in the Senate, but considering that several high-profile Republicans have already come out against the firing of Comey, there is no guarantee that whoever Trump picks will get a smooth passage through the Senate.
UPDATE May 10, 2017, 13:35 p.m.: The New York Times reports Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein are interviewing four candidates Wednesday to become “interim” FBI director. Potential names for this temporary gig include William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and current FBI staffers Paul Abbate of the Washington field office, Michael Anderson of the Chicago field office, and Adam Lee of the Richmond, Virginia, field office.
Here are some permanent candidates floated to replace Comey:
- Andrew McCabe: Comey’s deputy for over a year, and currently the acting FBI director, McCabe would appear from the outside to be an obvious choice. He has been at the bureau for over two decades, working on areas including counterterrorism, national security, and interrogation. But his close links to Comey, his involvement in the Russian investigation, and his ties to the Hillary Clinton email saga — for which Comey was ultimately fired — would appear to rule him out.
- Trey Gowdy: A former federal prosecutor who boasts of big wins in areas like drug trafficking, bank robberies, and child pornography cases, the South Carolina Republican was critical of Comey’s decision last year not to prosecute Hillary Clinton. Gowdy led the House committee investigation into the actions of the former secretary of state surrounding the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.
- Dana Boente: According to two former FBI officials speaking to Reuters, Boente, the No. 3 at the Justice Department and a former acting attorney general, is one possible candidate, given his more than three decades at the DOJ. He was briefly appointed to lead the department’s Trump-Russia investigation when Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself earlier this year.
- Chris Christie: The former presidential candidate turned Trump acolyte has long been pegged for a role in the administration, but he has previously said he wants to finish out his term as governor of New Jersey. Christie’s close ties to Trump are likely to be the biggest hurdle standing in the way of the former U.S. attorney getting the top job at the FBI.
- Rudy Giuliani: Currently the president’s unofficial cybersecurity adviser, Giuliani’s background as mayor of New York, his time as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and his strong links to Trump would appear to make him a strong candidate for the job. But, like Christie, his obvious partisanship would likely make Senate approval a very tough sell.
- Ray Kelly: The longest-serving commissioner of the NYPD, Kelly held the demanding role for 13 years. Should Trump consider him, this would not be the first time Kelly has been in the frame to become director of the FBI. Way back in 1993 Bill Clinton considered Kelly for the role, and while he ultimately didn’t get it, he did serve in several high-profile roles within the Clinton administration. Such support from the Democratic Party could be vital in securing his approval by the Senate.
- John Pistole: A deputy director of the FBI under former president George W. Bush, Pistole is currently working out of the public eye, as the president of Anderson University in Indiana. Pistole is another candidate who could curry favor across party lines, having also served in the Obama administration as director of the Transportation Security Administration.