WASHINGTON — After saying he was “very close” to naming a new FBI director, President Donald Trump boarded Air Force One on Friday for his first foreign trip without making any comment about the future leadership of the law enforcement agency.
The White House said earlier in the day that no announcement would be made.
Trump had teased that he could announce his choice for director before departing Friday for Saudi Arabia, Israel, Italy and Belgium, a world tour that will keep him away from the White House through the end of next week.
“We’re very close to an FBI director,” Trump said Thursday when asked about the search during an Oval Office appearance with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. He said an announcement could come “soon” and that former Sen. Joe Lieberman was among the candidates.
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Trump interviewed Lieberman and three other candidates this week. The former Connecticut senator flashed a thumbs-up as he left the White House after the interview Wednesday, saying he and Trump had a “good meeting.”
Trump also met with former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating; Richard McFeely, a former top FBI official; and acting FBI director Andrew McCabe.
The FBI needs a new director because Trump fired James Comey last week in an unexpected move that drew criticism from Republicans and Democrats, coming as it did amid the FBI’s investigation of Russian influence in the presidential election, including possible coordination with Trump campaign associates.
The Justice Department, in an attempt to quell the furor over Comey’s ouster, this week hired former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to lead the investigation. Trump said Thursday that he respected Mueller’s appointment, but he denounced the probe as a “witch hunt.”
Lieberman served in the Senate for more than two decades and was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000 with Al Gore, then the sitting vice president. Lieberman lost his 2006 Democratic primary bid but won Senate re-election as a third-party candidate.
Lieberman spoke at the 2008 Republican National Convention on behalf of his friend, Arizona Sen. John McCain, and did not seek re-election in 2012. He has served as co-chairman of No Labels, a centrist group that promotes bipartisanship.
Keating, a Republican, was a two-term governor of Oklahoma and led the state during the deadly 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. A former FBI agent, Keating served in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Keating told his hometown newspaper after the interview that he doesn’t expect to be chosen.
McCabe, an FBI veteran, made headlines for congressional testimony last week that rejected White House claims that Comey had lost the support of rank-and-file agents. He also disputed the administration’s characterization of the Russia investigation.
McFeely in 2012 was named by then-Director Mueller as the executive assistant director of the agency’s Criminal, Cyber, Response Services Branch. McFeely also was the lead agent investigating the Oklahoma City federal building bombing in 1995.
The Senate must confirm Trump’s candidate for the FBI job.
Several candidates have withdrawn from consideration: Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.; Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas; Alice Fisher, the former head of the Justice Department’s criminal division; and Michael Garcia, a former U.S. attorney from Manhattan.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.
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