WASHINGTON (AP) — Justice Department leaders are interviewing four veteran law enforcement and intelligence officials for the role of interim FBI director.
The position is currently held by Andrew McCabe, top deputy to ex-FBI Director James Comey, who President Donald Trump fired on Tuesday evening.
Justice Department officials identified the contenders as Adam Lee and Michael Anderson, who run the FBI’s field offices in Richmond, Virginia, and Chicago, respectively. Others are Paul Abbate, who oversees the FBI’s criminal and cyber branch, and William Evanina, the government’s chief counterintelligence officer.
The interim chief would serve until Congress confirms a permanent director, which could take some time given bipartisan angst over Comey’s firing.
Comey was speaking to agents at the FBI’s field office in Los Angeles Tuesday when the news of his firing broke Tuesday, according to a law enforcement official who was present at the time.
The official says television screens in the field office began flashing the news, and Comey initially chuckled. But he continued to speak to the agents, finishing his speech before heading into an office. He did not reappear in the main room.
In his letter to Comey, President Donald Trump said the firing was necessary to restore “public trust and confidence” in the FBI. The administration paired the letter with a scathing review by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein of how Comey handled the investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s email practices, including his decision to hold a news conference announcing its findings and releasing “derogatory information” about Clinton.
The firing throws into question the future of a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible connections to Russia. It immediately raised suspicions of an underhanded effort to stymie a probe that has shadowed the administration from the outset.
The FBI is in the midst of investigating whether Trump’s presidential campaign was connected to Russian meddling in the election.
Vice President Mike Pence is defending the firing, saying the “president made the right decision at the right time.”
Pence said Comey’s firing was not related to the investigation into possible contacts between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.
Democrats likened the firing to President Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” and renewed calls for the appointment of a special prosecutor, and some Republicans also questioned the move.
In an early-morning tweet Wednesday, Trump attacked Democrats being critical of his choice.
Trump said that Democrats “have said some of the worst things about James Comey, including the fact that he should be fired, but now they play so sad!”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman says Moscow isn’t concerned about the firing.
Dmitry Peskov says Russia hopes it won’t affect U.S.-Russia ties “in any way,” and calls it “an entirely domestic matter” for the United States.
Amid Democratic calls for a special prosecutor, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says a new investigation of Russia meddling could only serve to impede the current probes underway.
“Today we’ll no doubt hear calls for a new investigation which could only serve to impede the current work being done,” he said when he spoke on the Senate floor Wednesday morning.
Following McConnell on the floor, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer did indeed call for a special prosecutor.
The Senate and House intelligence committees are investigating Russian meddling in the presidential election and Russian ties to the Trump campaign.
Schumer is also asking that Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appear before the Senate to answer questions about the circumstances surrounding Trump’s decision to fire Comey.
The New York Democrat said they should discuss why Sessions participated in the decision to fire Comey despite recusing himself and whether Rosenstein acted on his own when recommending Comey’s dismissal or whether he was order to do so by the White House.
Schumer also said the administration should answer why the president didn’t wait until the Justice Department’s inspector general issued a report on Comey’s much-criticized actions regarding the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
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