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Trump's shortlist for attorney general takes shape

Trump's shortlist for attorney general takes shape
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump to oust Nielsen as early as this week: report California wildfire becomes deadliest in state’s history Sinema’s Senate win cheered by LGBTQ groups MORE’s dismissal of Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump to oust Nielsen as early as this week: report Acting AG will meet with DOJ ethics officials to discuss possible recusal: reports Swalwell calls acting AG an 'assassin' hired to 'take out' Mueller probe MORE on Wednesday has sparked a flurry of reports about potential nominees to replace him as attorney general.

The reports trickling out have named members of Congress, a retired appeals court judge, a former state governor and a former attorney general as being in the running to lead the Department of Justice (DOJ).

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Citing two sources familiar with the matter, CBS reported that former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi are under consideration by the White House.

CNN reported that other possible contenders include former D.C. Circuit Court Judge Janice Rogers Brown, former DOJ Official John Michael Luttig, Solicitor General Noel Francisco and Rep. John RatcliffeJohn Lee RatcliffeTrump's shortlist for attorney general takes shape Papadopoulos seeks immunity before possible Senate testimony Conservatives say Papadopoulos testimony reinforces belief of no collusion MORE (R-Texas), a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, reported that Trump has been talking to advisers for months about who could replace Sessions, with front-runners including former Attorney General William Barr, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is Trump’s outside lawyer on the Russia investigation, and Matthew Whitaker, who served as Sessions’s chief of staff before Trump named him acting attorney general on Wednesday.

Alberto Gonzales, who served as attorney general under former President George W. Bush, said he didn’t have any inside knowledge about who’s in the running, but noted that an attorney general should be someone who’s comfortable dealing with both Congress and the press.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to have been a prosecutor or a litigator,” he said.

Gonzales was White House counsel in the Bush administration when he was nominated in 2005 to be attorney general, a position he held until 2007.

Legal experts and DOJ watchers, including John Malcolm and Hans von Spakovsky of the conservative Heritage Foundation, gave no indication they are aware of who’s on the shortlist. Heritage and the Federalist Society compiled the shortlist of potential Supreme Court nominees that Trump consulted when nominating Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughScalise: Investigations into Trump by House Democrats could backfire Schumer’s headaches to multiply in next Congress Top Judiciary Dem: No plans to investigate or impeach Kavanaugh MORE to the Supreme Court.

As for those who have been named as possible DOJ chiefs, they're tight-lipped about their prospects or whether they would be willing to take on the job of being the nation’s top law enforcement official.

Barr told The Hill “no comment” when asked if he’s interested in the position.

Whitney Ray Gerald, a spokeswoman for the Florida Attorney General's Office, did not rule out the possibility of Bondi accepting the position, but did not say she would take it either.

"What I can tell you at this time is: As the attorney general has repeatedly said, she has not yet made a decision as to what she will do next," Gerald said.

Caitlin Oakley, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said Azar has repeatedly said the HHS secretary job is the best one he’s ever had and that this is his dream job.

“He plans to continue serving President Trump as his HHS secretary,” she said.

The White House did not respond to questions about who is being considered and when a selection might be made.

Early on, some people indicated that Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamElection Countdown: Florida braces for volatile recount | Counties race to finish machine recount | Trump ramps up attacks | Abrams files new lawsuit in Georgia | 2020 to be new headache for Schumer | Why California counts its ballots so slowly Trump, California battle over climate and cause of fires Schumer’s headaches to multiply in next Congress MORE (R-S.C.), a staunch ally of Trump and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was on the shortlist, but he quickly took himself out of the running. 

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Graham said he will work with Trump to find a "confirmable, worthy successor."

“As to me, I will be part of a larger Republican majority in the United States Senate -- working with the President and my Republican and Democratic colleagues -- to make America safer and more prosperous,” he said.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCongress braces for high-drama lame duck Trump's shortlist for attorney general takes shape Beto lost but Texas Democrats have a lot to celebrate MORE (R-Texas), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate and a member of the Judiciary Committee, had also been floated by some as a possible candidate, but he said Thursday he will remain in the Senate.

“I had brief discussions with the president months back about the FBI directorship and told him, after about 48 hours, I thought I could do a better job of helping the country and helping him succeed in accomplishing his goals by continuing my service in the Senate,” he said at an event in Texas.

“So I will not be looking for or accepting any Cabinet appointments,” he added. “I intend on continuing to serve in the United States Senate.”

James Trusty, a former DOJ official who is now a partner at Ifrah Law in Washington, said the agency ought to have its own flag bearer, someone leading it who’s separate from political affiliations.

“I’d like to see a serious career prosecutor or career judge rather than someone who just dabbled in it for political advancement,” he said.

Spakovsky, however, said you don’t know someone is qualified unless they are involved politically.

“Nobody is picked for any Cabinet position that doesn’t have political ties,” he said. 

Trump picked Sessions, who at the time was a senator from Alabama, to be the nation’s top prosecutor. Sessions had previously served as the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Alabama.

President Obama’s first attorney general, Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderTrump's shortlist for attorney general takes shape Pipe bomb suspect to be held without bail Pipe bomb suspect to appear in court on Election Day, prosecutors say MORE, served for about five years as an associate judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and then as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia before former President Clinton named him deputy attorney general in 1997.

Loretta Lynch served as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York under Clinton and then worked in private practice before Obama tapped her for attorney general in 2015. 

Whoever Trump picks is likely to face a larger GOP majority in the Senate during the nomination process, increasing the odds of confirmation.