A massive search is under way for a new FBI director, after U.S. President Donald Trump fired James Comey last week.
The administration has interviewed at least eight candidates for the job, and Trump has said a decision could come before he leaves Friday on his first overseas trip as president.
“I think the process is going to go quickly,” Trump said of the candidates. “They’ve been vetted over their lifetime essentially, but very well-known, highly respected, really talented people. And that’s what we want for the FBI.”
Meanwhile, the president continued to make headlines and rankle lawmakers from both parties who criticized his actions last week, which included changing explanations from the White House for the firing and an ominous tweet by Trump that warned Comey against leaks to the press because Trump may have “tapes” of their conversations.
On Sunday, lawmakers urged Trump to turn over any tapes of conversations with Comey. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said the White House must “clear the air” about whether there are any taped conversations. “You can’t be cute about tapes. If there are any tapes of this conversation, they need to be turned over,” Graham told NBC’s Meet the Press program.
Democrat Mark Warner, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, “I do not have the foggiest idea whether there are tapes or not.But the fact that the president made allusions to that, and then the White House would not confirm or deny? First of all, we [have] got to make sure that these tapes, if they exist, don’t mysteriously disappear. So I have asked, others have asked, for the tapes to be preserved, if they exist.”
Democrats also are accusing Trump of attempting to thwart the FBI’s investigation of alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election, and possible ties between Moscow and the Trump campaign. Some have called for some type of independent inquiry.
Also on NBC television, Trump said Comey asked to meet with him in January so as to convey a desire to remain on the job at the FBI. But the president’s account does not match the recollection of someone who interacted with Comey shortly before the FBI director dined with Trump at the White House.
James Clapper, former national intelligence director who served under the Obama administration from 2010 until Trump’s inauguration, told ABC’s This Week, “I spoke briefly with Director Comey about the dinner. He conveyed to me that he had been invited and he was, this is my characterization, uneasy with it, simply because of the optic or the appearance of potentially compromising his independence and that of the bureau.”
He also had harsh worlds for the president’s actions toward Comey. “I think in many ways our institutions are under assault,” Clapper told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. “Both externally, and that’s the big news here, is Russian interference in our election system. And I think as well our institutions are under assault internally.”
When asked to clarify if the internal assault came from the president directly, the former spy chief added: “Exactly.”
The bleak assessment came days after Trump claimed on Twitter that Comey had determined “there is no collusion” with reference to his presidential campaign and Russia, a characterization that Comey has refuted.
An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released on Sunday found only 29% of Americans approved of Comey’s firing, while 78% support an independent commission or special prosecutor to investigate Russia’s interference in the election.