The fiery South Carolinian who made his name grilling Hillary Clinton over the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and the Texan who serves as the number two Republican in the Senate are among the candidates under consideration to lead the FBI after James Comey’s high-profile firing earlier this week.
A senior administration official with knowledge of the situation who was not authorized to speak publicly as a matter of practice confirmed to McClatchy that South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy and Texas Sen. John Cornyn are two of 11 candidates on a White House list who could lead the FBI.
Gowdy and Cornyn have law enforcement credentials.
Cornyn served as a judge on the Texas Supreme Court and worked as Texas attorney general from 1999 to 2002 before winning election to the U.S. Senate. Gowdy worked as a federal prosecutor from 1994 to 2000 in South Carolina and served as a district attorney before entering Congress in 2011.
Whoever is selected for the position will face intense scrutiny from Democrats and Republicans and will be responsible for overseeing the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, along with the typical responsibilities of managing an agency of over 35,000 employees.
Neither Gowdy nor Cornyn has indicated a formal interest in the position.
On Capitol Hill this week, Cornyn told reporters he’s not interested in the position and said in a statement Friday, “I have the distinct privilege of serving 28 million Texans in the United States Senate, and that is where my focus remains.”
Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe said Friday that Cornyn had talked with President Donald Trump about multiple FBI director candidates, including himself.
“When I talked to Sen. Cornyn, he hadn’t made up his mind whether or not he would like to be considered,” Ratcliffe said on Inside Texas Politics. “Were he to be, he’s certainly more than qualified.”
Gowdy’s office declined to comment.
Cornyn, 65, would likely have the support of his Republican colleagues if nominated. He is the second-highest-ranking member of the Senate after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Gowdy, 52, is despised by Democrats and loved by Republicans after leading the House Select Committee on Benghazi from 2014 to 2016. The investigation led to the discovery of Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
At least one Democrat wants Gowdy to lead the FBI.
“Dems are going to hate me for this. The best replacement for Comey is Trey Gowdy,” said Bakari Sellers, who ran for South Carolina lieutenant governor in 2014. “He’s as honest as the day is long.”
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer declined to say how fast Trump would pick a FBI director.
“The president obviously wants to make sure that we’ve got the right person,” Spicer said. “And that process is being headed by the Department of Justice.”
Spicer said the interview process would start immediately but that Trump had not decided whether Comey’s replacement should be political or not.
“The Department of Justice is screening candidates, and I’m sure that as they feel as though they’ve got a list of finalists, they’ll share that with the president and he’ll make a decision,” Spicer said.
Gowdy and Cornyn are the most well-known of the 11 candidates the White House is considering.
The list also includes former House Intelligence Committee Chairman and former FBI agent Mike Rogers, former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, former Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, FBI Executive Assistant Director Paul Abbate, Associate Judge of New York Court of Appeals Mike Garcia, Mayor of Colorado Springs John Suthers, Boeing Executive Vice President and former federal appellate court Judge Michael Luttig, former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe.
Fox News first reported the list of potential replacements Friday.
Comey was abruptly ousted as FBI director on Tuesday. Initially, the White House said he had been fired because Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had expressed concern over the way Comey handled the Clinton email investigation. But in an interview Thursday with NBC, Trump said he had been frustrated with the FBI’s Russia investigation and that it was politically motivated by Democrats.
Donovan Harrell contributed to this report.