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White House Begins Search For New FBI Director After Comey's Firing

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Who might succeed James Comey as director of the FBI? Well, according to the White House, the search is under way. And according to Josh Gerstein, who covers the White House for Politico, there are a number of names being mentioned by current and former officials. Josh Gerstein, welcome to the program.

JOSH GERSTEIN: Hey, good to be with you, Robert.

SIEGEL: I want to ask you about some of the people you mentioned as being under consideration, and they do include former New York Police Chief Ray Kelly, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, who are respectively 75, 72 and 71 years old. It's a 10-year term. Is the White House really considering people that advanced in years?

GERSTEIN: I think they are. I mean, they don't need a guarantee from these people that they'll necessarily serve out a full 10-year term, but you're quite right. It is curious to hear how they might explain that to the Senate if they're asked, as they undoubtedly would be, whether they intend to be serving as FBI director at 84, 85 years of age. You know, this is a fairly demanding job, involves traveling around the country and around the world. It's not quite like the Supreme Court. It's not quite as sedentary. And so I think there would be real questions about whether someone in their mid-80s could do this job effectively.

SIEGEL: Three younger possible nominees you've written about are Congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, former White House homeland security adviser Fran Townsend and former Congressman Mike Rogers. They're all in their 50s. Do you think they're all serious contenders for the FBI job?

GERSTEIN: Yeah, I think they are. I think Mike Rogers might be the most serious contender of those three. He is seen, I think, by both sides in Congress as fairly even-tempered, fairly serious. He also has a background having been an FBI agent, which I think is unusual for this list of people that we think are being considered. Fran Townsend is also someone who's pretty well respected. Trump tends to like people that have played some role on television, and she's been a commentator on CNN for some time in addition to being a homeland security adviser under the previous couple administrations. That said, she did sign, I think, a never-Trump letter at one point, and most of the time, that's been seen as disqualifying by the White House for just about any position.

SIEGEL: And Gowdy was the chair of the big House investigation into Benghazi.

GERSTEIN: Right. That might just be too bitter a pill to swallow for the Senate Democrats who would be asked to go along with this. A number of senators on both sides of the aisle had said they're hoping for a consensus pick and somebody who will clearly be independent of the White House, and someone who is seen as too polarizing might frustrate that objective.

SIEGEL: Now, by coincidence, we spoke with one man who's named in your list, former Justice Department lawyer George Terwilliger. And he told us, when asked if he was being considered, I don't know who your sources are, but you better get better sources. There's a fair amount of cold water from him on the notion of his being FBI director. Who else do you think is actually in the running right now?

GERSTEIN: Well, you know, I don't think the White House has gotten very far in this process, but there are some other names that have already surfaced. One that's going around on Capitol Hill at the moment is Kelly Ayotte, the former Republican senator from New Hampshire who also played a role sherpaing, as they say, Neil Gorsuch through the Supreme Court process. Again, she's pretty well respected on both sides of the aisle. Her resume isn't exactly typical for an FBI director. She was attorney general of New Hampshire. Pretty much everybody that's had that job on a permanent basis since J. Edgar Hoover has been either a deputy attorney general or a federal prosecutor or a federal judge. So that would be an interesting departure.

And speaking of federal judges, another name making the rounds at the moment is the chief judge of the D.C. Circuit and unsuccessful Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. Senator Mike Lee is actually actively pushing Trump to nominate Garland as the director of the FBI. Whether Garland would be at all interested in that post, especially with the nomination coming from the Trump administration, I think remains to be seen. And I'd say it's pretty doubtful.

SIEGEL: Josh Gerstein, White House reporter for Politico, thanks for talking with us about possible successors to James Comey at the FBI.

GERSTEIN: Anytime, my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.