Less than 24 hours after Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ dismissal, the race to fill his post atop the Justice Department is heating up.
The growing list of candidates to become the next attorney general spans a broad spectrum of legal minds close to President Donald Trump and his administration and includes trusted advisers, political allies and vocal critics of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
According to multiple sources familiar with Trump’s thinking, the list is currently comprised of at least seven potential nominees: former U.S. attorney general William Barr, Florida attorney general Pam Bondi, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe and acting U.S. attorney general Matthew Whitaker.
Sources emphasized that the list is fluid, and that President Trump is in no rush to name a permanent successor.
The next attorney general will inherit supervision over the Mueller probe, which President Trump and his allies have often referred to as a “witch hunt.”
Barr served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush.
Bondi, who has been a longtime ally of the president, was considered for a Justice Department position during the transition, according to sources familiar with the matter. Her term as Florida’s attorney general will end in January.
Christie was first a primary rival and then an early supporter of the Trump campaign. Christie, who is now an ABC News contributor, met with Trump and his advisers at the White House on Thursday, where he had a previously-scheduled meeting on prison reform with White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, according to sources familiar with the matter.
Giuliani, a longtime friend of Trump, served as one of his closest aides on the campaign trail. As Trump’s personal attorney since April, Giuliani has been in ongoing discussion with the special counsel office about the president’s submission of written answers to some of prosecutor’s questions in the Russia probe.
Graham, who is expected to take over as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, has been rumored to be auditioning for the post for months, perhaps inspiring in part his vigorous defense of the president’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in September.
Ratcliffe, a Republican from Texas, has been a vocal critic of the Mueller probe.
Whitaker, Sessions’ former chief of staff at the Department of Justice who Trump tapped to fill Sessions’ shoes on an interim basis, once penned an opinion piece for CNN.com criticizing Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Whitaker, Sessions’ former chief of staff at the Department of Justice, has been tapped by Trump tapped to fill Sessions’ shoes on an interim basis, but sources said he is also a contender for the permanent job. He has already come under intense scrutiny, however, for his past statements criticizing Mueller’s Russia investigation.
“Last month, when President Donald Trump was asked by The New York Times if special counsel Robert Mueller would be crossing a line if he started investigating the finances of Trump and his family, the President said, ‘I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia,” Whitaker, then a CNN legal commentator, wrote in the August 2016 piece.
“The President is absolutely correct. Mueller has come up to a red line in the Russia 2016 election-meddling investigation that he is dangerously close to crossing.”