Washington – Momentum slowed Friday on the expected nomination of former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman to head the FBI as the White House postponed an announcement of President Donald Trump’s pick for the job held by James Comey before his firing.
Trump had indicated he wanted to make the nomination before he left Friday afternoon for his first trip overseas – to Saudi Arabia.
On Thursday Trump said his top choice for the position was Lieberman and he would make an announcement “very soon.”
On Friday, the White House told an expectant media, “There will not be an announcement of a nominee for FBI director today.”
The White House declined to give a reason for the delay. Trump is scheduled to be out of the country for nine days.
“As with any personnel announcement, nothing is official until it’s announced officially,” a White House spokesman said.
After the contentious firing of Comey, the White House was searching for a replacement who would win bipartisan support in the Senate, which will vote to confirm the candidate. Senate Republicans lauded Lieberman’s possible candidacy, but that support did not extend across the aisle.
“There was some surprise from GOP senators that Democrats were throwing so much cold water on the nominee,” a Senate aide said.
A Republican Senate aide said Democratic criticisms of Lieberman were part of the party’s campaign to block anything Trump tries to accomplish. “We didn’t expect that with Lieberman,“ he said.
Although top Senate Republicans, including Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, predicted there would be strong support for Lieberman when that chamber voted to confirm him – Cornyn predicted the nominee would receive all 100 Senate votes – there’s been a steady drumbeat of Democratic dissatisfaction with the possible candidacy of the Democrat-turned-independent.
Democrats said Trump should pick someone form the law enforcement community, not someone who has spent his life running for political office. Besides being Connecticut’s U.S. senator for 14 years, Lieberman unsuccessfully ran for the presidency, was Al Gore’s running mate and was considered a vice presidential possibility when Sen. John McCain ran for the White House.
“The FBI has to have someone that every member of that agency respects because they know their law enforcement, they know they’re not going to cave to political whims, and they know that they’re talented in doing the law enforcement job,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee that would hold a confirmation hearing.
Others pointed out that Lieberman works for Kasowitz Benson Torres, a law firm that represents Trump, and that his nomination would be seen as an effort to replace Comey with someone less competent and more compliant.
“In this difficult moment in American history, when there is so much mistrust in government, the next FBI director must be a person who commands bipartisan support,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. “He or she cannot be perceived as a political appointee or someone representing the interests of the Trump administration. Unfortunately, Joe Lieberman does not fit that description.”
Sanders said Lieberman’s “political history, and his extreme views on a number of issues, would make him a very contentious and divisive nominee. That is not what we need now for the next FBI director.”
Connecticut’s Democratic senators also have refrained from endorsing the candidate.
Murphy said Lieberman would be able to withstand political pressures. But like other Democrats, Murphy wants a candidate with law enforcement background.
“I hold Senator Lieberman’s seat,” said Sen. Chris Murphy. “He’s no pushover, as both parties know. He’s been a pain in the butt to both Republicans and Democrats during his time in and out of the Senate.”
But Murphy also said, “I think the question is if you want someone with a political pedigree or if you want someone with a law enforcement background. I think there are a lot of people on both sides of the aisle looking for someone who doesn’t come from the political realm…ultimately, I think a lot of us would rather see someone who comes from law enforcement.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal also has said he’d prefer someone with a background in criminal justice and a person who is “above politics.”
Besides meeting with Lieberman, 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.