GOP senators pitch Merrick Garland for FBI director


Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, is gaining an unlikely ally: Senate Republicans.

A pair of Utah lawmakers, Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch, are urging the White House to include Garland’s name in the search for the next FBI director after President Trump fired James Comey on Tuesday night.

“I suggested that [the White House] ought to consider him,” Hatch told reporters on Thursday. “I didn’t say they should just pick him. I know they’ve got some really excellent people, but I said put Merrick in the list too.”

Lee separately floated on Twitter that instead of naming a special prosecutor for the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the presidential election Trump should “nominate Merrick Garland to replace James Comey.”

{mosads}The GOP pitch to make Garland the nation’s top law enforcement officer is a reversal from last year, when Republicans refused to give him a hearing or a vote to join the Supreme Court. The move infuriated Democrats and allowed Trump to quickly appoint a justice after taking office.

But Hatch argued on Thursday that the Republican blockade was never about Garland, but rather was about keeping the Supreme Court out of election-year politics.

“Merrick Garland is a very fine fellow. There’s never been an issue with Merrick Garland,” he told reporters. “Merrick is a very fine man. I like Merrick.”

But Lee’s public pitch sparked skepticism from some Democrats.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tweeted an “It’s a trap!” Star Wars GIF in response, adding: “On Merrick Garland for FBI head, this seems…unserious.”

But Conn Carroll, a spokesman for Lee, said the GOP senator’s suggestion is serious and added that he pitched Garland after an unrelated meeting at the White House on tax reform.

“He’s eminently qualified and has the reputation needed to restore public confidence in FBI,” Carroll told The Hill, when asked why Lee would suggest Garland.

Carroll added on Twitter that Garland “has extensive prosecutorial experience including overseeing the OKC bombing investigation.”

Garland, then working for the Department of Justice, helped oversee the investigation and prosecution of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Whoever succeeds Comey — whom Trump fired Tuesday — would be responsible for overseeing the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential election and any possible connections between members of Trump’s campaign and Moscow.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who like Hatch and Lee is a member of the Judiciary Committee, also backed the idea of Garland being on the list of candidates for FBI director.

“Put me on that list of floaters. I like that. I think he’s a good guy,” he said asked about Hatch’s and Lee’s idea.

Graham said he hadn’t spoken to the White House to formally pitch Garland but is “thumbs up” about the former Obama nominee potentially succeeding Comey.

Nominating Garland would likely be an easy way to win over Democrats, who overwhelmingly supported his Supreme Court nomination, amid the lingering political fallout over Comey’s firing.  

However, Trump’s FBI nominee could technically clear the Senate without any Democratic support. Under a rule change in 2013, executive branch nominees only need a simple majority to be approved and Republicans have 52 seats.

But not every GOP senator was sold on the concept of Garland becoming the next FBI director.

“I’ve heard the rumor but, as far as I know it’s just a rumor,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, said.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) declined to comment, noting, “I’m going to wait until I see a bunch of names.”

If Trump nominated Garland, his move would open up a seat on the powerful D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, allowing the president to fill that vacancy.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, pointed to that potential vacancy as a potential boost to the idea.

“It would also create a vacancy in the important D.C. Circuit, so maybe I like it better the more I think about it,” he told the Associated Press.

Asked about his colleagues support for Garland, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — a close Senate ally of Graham — said, “I don’t agree. “

Instead, McCain said he would like to see former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) become FBI director but added that he hadn’t floated the idea to the White House.

Ayotte, who was New Hampshire’s attorney general before joining the Senate, lost her reelection bid last year to Democrat Maggie Hassan.

After leaving office, Ayotte helped guide Justice Neil Gorsuch’s nomination through the Senate earlier this year.

Though her name has been floated as a potential successor for Comey, a source close to the former lawmaker told CNN that she hasn’t heard from the White House.

Trump told The New York Times late last year that he was passing on giving Ayotte a job in his administration because she didn’t support him during the election.  

“She’d love to have a job in the administration, I said, ‘No, thank you,’” Trump said at the time. “She refused to vote for me.”

Tags Barack Obama Chuck Grassley John Cornyn John McCain Kelly Ayotte Lindsey Graham Mike Lee Orrin Hatch Roy Blunt

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