Comey’s gone, now how do we replace him at the FBI?
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President Donald Trump precipitously dismissed FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday because “it is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.”

Regardless of whether the president appropriately fired Comey, Trump must expeditiously nominate and the Senate should promptly confirm an exceptional replacement. The institution and smooth execution of expert, open, fair and swift nomination and confirmation processes are essential to “public trust and confidence” in the FBI and the president.

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The statute which creates the office of FBI director and the term of service provides guidance on filling that office. Congress grants the director extraordinary powers to investigate potential federal law violations and a ten-year term, which accord the director insulation from political pressures and independence from the president and lawmakers, who nominate and confirm the director.

 

The president can most effectively discharge his solemn nomination responsibility by seeking broad input and assiduously consulting Congress, especially the Senate which must provide advice and consent. 

The president should promptly seek recommendations on the nomination process and specific candidates from Congress’ members. For example, Trump might convene a meeting with Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump retreats on census citizenship question Alabama senator says Trump opposed to Sessions Senate bid Judiciary issues blitz of subpoenas for Kushner, Sessions, Trump associates MORE, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWhat Democrats should say about guns This week: House Dems voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt Juan Williams: GOP in a panic over Mueller MORE (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerNYT: Don't make Acosta a political martyr Charities say they never received donations touted by Jeffrey Epstein: report Schumer to donate Epstein campaign contributions to groups fighting sexual violence MORE (D-N.Y.), Intelligence Committee Chair Robert Burr (R-N.C.) and Vice Chair Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand On The Money: Fed chief warns of 'unthinkable' harm if debt ceiling breached | Powell basks in bipartisan praise amid Trump attacks | Federal deficit jumps to 7 billion Fed chief basks in bipartisan praise as lawmakers dismiss Trump attacks MORE (D-Va.), Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyAdvocates frustrated over pace of drug price reform Trump drug pricing setbacks put pressure on Congress Hillicon Valley: Trump rails against 'terrible bias' at White House social media summit | Twitter hit by hour-long outage | Google admits workers listen to smart device recordings MORE (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDem senators demand GOP judicial group discloses donors Senate Democrats skipping Pence's border trip Senate confirms Trump's 9th Circuit pick despite missing blue slips MORE (D-Calif.), House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJuan Williams: GOP in a panic over Mueller House Republicans dismissive of Paul Ryan's take on Trump Amash's critics miss the fact that partisanship is the enemy of compromise MORE (R-Wis.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).

The attendees should comprehensively, candidly and confidentially ventilate all issues relevant to the nomination and discuss candidates qualified to direct the FBI.

The president should quickly narrow the field of candidates and perhaps selectively broach these prospects with some attendees. The criteria for selection must be excellence, experience in law enforcement and independence. 

Examples of the type of people Trump should nominate include former directors Louis Freeh and Robert Mueller. Once the president secures comprehensive input on candidates, he must carefully review those ideas and astutely nominate the best individual who satisfies the criteria. 

When Trump announces the nominee, he should thoroughly explain the reasons for selection.

Upon receipt of the nomination, the Senate must assertively fulfill its advice and consent role. Complete, swift and fair assessment is critical, particularly because President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Camerota clashes with Trump's immigration head over president's tweet LA Times editorial board labels Trump 'Bigot-in-Chief' Trump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates MORE may have conflicts of interest, especially regarding the FBI investigation of Russia’s interference in the U.S. elections and its possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

Judiciary Chairman Grassley must rapidly, fully and equitably investigate the nominee by helping the FBI conduct a background check. The chairman then should expeditiously convene a hearing. Members must thoroughly, rigorously and fairly question the nominee. 

Senators ought to guarantee that the nominee possesses superior qualifications, including complete independence, to discharge the Director’s critical responsibilities, especially leading the Russia probe, unless a special prosecutor or select committee is appointed. Soon after the hearing, Grassley must schedule a full, robust and fair discussion of the nominee and a vote.

If the committee approves the nominee, Majority Leader McConnell must rapidly arrange a comprehensive and fair Senate debate, which rigorously ventilates all relevant issues. McConnell next should conduct a ballot.

President Trump and the Senate must aggressively cooperate to ensure that the individual appointed FBI Director has the finest qualifications to discharge the office’s crucial responsibilities and the maximum independence. 

The president and senators can best guarantee public confidence in the new director and the FBI by following efficacious selection procedures. 

Carl Tobias is the Williams Chair in Law at the University of Richmond. His work has appeared in U.S. News and World Reports and The Guardian.


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