Former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman has emerged as President Donald Trump’s leading choice to be the next FBI director.
Trump confirmed Thursday that Lieberman was his top candidate to succeed James Comey, the controversial, high-profile director who was fired last week the president.
“We’re very close to an FBI director,” Trump told reporters as he posed for photos with President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia in the Oval Office, saying his choice would be announced soon.
If he is named FBI director, it would be an unexpected return to prominence for Lieberman, who was nearly elected vice president in the 2000 presidential race and who left the U.S. Senate in 2013 to return to a private legal practice.
Some politicians said Lieberman would be a stunning choice as a longtime Democrat without extensive experience as a federal prosecutor or criminal investigator. Some were surprised that Lieberman’s name had risen to the top so quickly in a fast-moving process that officials believed could be completed before Trump leaves Friday for his first overseas trip as president.
“I think the people in the FBI will be very, very thrilled,” Trump said of the pick that he said will be announced “soon.”
Lieberman traveled to the White House on Wednesday on short notice for an interview with Trump and afterward said it was a “good meeting.”
Lieberman’s name has been bandied about for years for a variety of positions, from defense secretary to the head of Homeland Security. The speculation is often offered more frequently by Republicans, who often publicly support him more than some of his fellow Democrats.
Lieberman, 75, had been relatively low-key lately, spending about half his time working for a New York City law firm that has represented Trump. He told The Courant previously that he was earning a living at the law firm so he can be “generous to my children and grandchildren.”
Trump and Lieberman have had a cordial relationship. In October 2015, Lieberman introduced Trump at a convention in southern New Hampshire for No Labels, a bipartisan group that Lieberman serves as co-chairman. In that role, before any primary ballots had been cast, Lieberman introduced Trump to the crowd of nearly 2,000 as “the surprise phenomenon of this presidential campaign.”
Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, who has known Lieberman for 42 years as a fellow New Haven resident, said Lieberman should not be ruled out simply because he has been an elected official.
“Many FBI directors have been intensely political without having been in public office or run for elective office,” Looney said.
“There’s never been an FBI director that I knew personally and could call up before,” Looney said.
U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., have not publicly pushed for Lieberman, and both said the next FBI director should have a law enforcement background instead of being a politician.
“I think the question is whether you want someone here with a political pedigree or you want somebody that has a law-enforcement pedigree,” Murphy said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “I think there’s a lot of people on both sides of the aisle that are looking for someone that doesn’t come from the political realm, somebody frankly in the tradition of Mueller, who has a real history in enforcing the law — not somebody who has spent time in the partisan realm.”
Murphy was referring to former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who has been chosen as a special counsel to investigate possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.
Murphy added: “I know Joe. He certainly is somebody who can stand up to folks in positions of high power, but ultimately a lot of us may like to see someone who comes from law enforcement.”
In the same way, Blumenthal said that the next FBI director should have a strong background in investigating crimes. Blumenthal declined to comment on Lieberman or any other possible candidates for the job.
Blumenthal said the next director could be “a career prosecutor with a distinguished background — not just any prosecutor. Career criminal justice professional could fit that description.”
For years, Lieberman has crossed the political aisle to form alliances with Republicans. He has spent part of his time as the co-chairman of No Labels, which seeks bipartisan solutions.
A longtime Democrat who began his public life as a 1960s anti-war activist, Lieberman has had many political twists and turns over the past 40 years.
His friends say he took a hard right turn after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and his support of Republican George W. Bush’s entrance into the Iraq War led to a challenge from Greenwich anti-war activist Ned Lamont in the 2006 U.S. Senate primary. Lieberman lost the primary as liberal Democrats flocked to Lamont, but Lieberman won the general election running as an independent candidate with the support of Republicans.
Lieberman went a step further right when he supported Republican John McCain over Democrat Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential race. Some Democrats wanted to strip him of his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee after he backed McCain, but with support from Democratic leader Harry Reid, Lieberman kept his chairmanship.
Despite the criticism, Lieberman remained a reliable Democratic voter by staying with the party about 90 percent of the time on issues like gun control, abortion rights, tax increases and gay rights. He was credited with being the 60th vote for Obama’s health care plan, which had been blasted by Republicans, and he was a key sponsor of repealing the military policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” for gay and lesbian service members.
A Washington Post report is included in this story.
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