SENATE

To find the right FBI Director, Congress must let go of the 2016 election

Curt Levey

Ever since former FBI Director James Comey explained to the nation last July why he was declining to prosecute Hillary Clinton, there has been no shortage of bitter political rhetoric surrounding the FBI. As the search for a new FBI Director begins, it is time for our nation's political leaders to put that bitterness aside. President Trump and the Senate should work to expeditiously nominate and confirm a new FBI Director in as non-politicized a manner as possible.

I understand the temptation for politicians to use the nomination and confirmation of a new Director as an opportunity to continue arguing about possible Russian interference in the 2016 election, Comey's impact on the election, and the criminal leaking of classified information to the media. However, there are already Senate and House investigations underway that give members of Congress plenty of opportunity to indulge those impulses.

Turning the search for a new FBI Director and the confirmation hearings that follow into yet another highly politicized fight about the 2016 elections would waste time, serve nobody's interests, and distract from the very important task of quickly finding the best person to lead the FBI. The surest way to find a Director who will not be trusted by one or both parties is through a bitterly partisan selection process.

Moreover, if Justice Anthony Kennedy were to retire following the end of the Supreme Court term next month, as many expect, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate would have its hands full with the confirmation of a new Supreme Court Justice this summer. Past experience tells us that would be a bloody confirmation fight.

The nation does not need two such fights in the Senate at the same time. An expeditious, civil and ideally bipartisan confirmation process for the new FBI Director may be the only way to prevent a two-ring circus in the Senate this summer.

It will help to lower the temperature if our nation's leaders keep in mind that FBI investigations, even ones involving the president or leakers in high places, do not rise and fall on the identity of the FBI Director. For one thing, the ultimate responsibility for all such investigations lies with the U.S. Attorney General – or, in cases of recusal, the Deputy Attorney General – not with the FBI.

Furthermore, the FBI is a far-flung and robust organization with many thousands of highly trained agents, attorneys, and others committed to doing their job regardless of who is currently serving as Director. To suggest otherwise is to insult the professionalism of these men and women.

If it were true that an FBI Director or the attorney general could not be trusted to investigate the Administration that appointed them, that would be an enormous problem that would transcend any current set of investigations. For example, it would call into question the Obama administration's decisions not to appoint a special prosecutor for the investigations of Hillary Clinton's email, Benghazi, the IRS's targeting of conservative groups, and the like.

Curt Levey, a constitutional law attorney with the Committee for Justice and FreedomWorks, is a veteran of judicial confirmation battles.