Support for Judge Merrick Garland to be considered as a candidate for the next director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is growing within the White House, FOX Business has learned.
During a conference call Wednesday, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) suggested to White House officials, including chief of staff Reince Priebus, that Garland should be under consideration to replace James Comey as FBI director after he was abruptly fired from the post last Tuesday, according to people familiar with the matter.
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Priebus agreed, according to numerous sources, and said including Garland on the list of candidates was “worthy of a conversation and consideration.”
The other officials on the call, the same people who spoke with Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) in a private meeting last Wednesday, had a mixed reaction to the idea of Garland leading the FBI.
When asked about Garland being considered as a possible Comey replacement during the White House briefing on Monday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer did not confirm or deny that he’s being considered for the job and referred all questions to the Department of Justice. “The search for the FBI director is being handled by the Department of Justice. My expectation would be that once they are done conducting that search they will present names for consideration to the president but they are the ones leading that effort,” Spicer said.
White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters did not respond to FOX Business’ request for comment.
The DOJ also did not respond to calls for comment.
A spokesperson for Hatch would not comment and would not confirm or deny the substance of the conversation.
As FOX Business first reported, Lee made his pitch on Wednesday during a private gathering at the White House with senior administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Don McGahn, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. When Lee floated the possibility of appointing Garland as Comey’s replacement, the reception was mostly positive, with Pence and McGahn seeing merit in the idea. However, others in attendance said it was a non-starter given Garland's affiliation with the Obama administration.
Among those who voiced doubt was White House staff secretary Rob Porter. Garland is currently the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals and while Republicans in Congress successfully blocked his appointment by President Obama to the Supreme Court during the 2016 presidential campaign, his legal credentials are well-established having served as both a prosecutor and corporate lawyer.
Priebus is just the latest name added to the growing list of White House officials and Congressional lawmakers who support having Garland added to the list of candidates under consideration for the top job at the FBI.
In an interview with FOX Business, Josh Holmes, the former chief of staff for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and current president of Cavalry LLC, which handles media relations and issue management strategies for Fortune 500 companies, said he spoke with his former boss on Sunday and was told that he supports Garland’s candidacy.
“In the conversation I had with him, he [McConnell] told me that he’s extremely qualified, he has experience as a prosecutor, somebody who understands law enforcement, understands action in all forms of law enforcement and he would have Democratic support,” Holmes said.
McConnell’s spokesperson declined to comment on the conversation between Holmes and the senator.
Sen. Orrin Hatch publicly threw his support behind Garland at a press conference Thursday. “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.”
Hatch also confirmed that he proposed Garland to the White House but did not elaborate or give any details on the conversation.
Democrats, who largely supported Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court, are unsurprisingly also on board with his consideration for the FBI position. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) responded to Sen. Lee’s proposal with support of her own.
A spokesperson for Lee said the senator has still not reached out to Garland about becoming the new FBI chief but is considering sending a formal e-mail to the White House to continue to push for his name to be added to the FBI director short list.