As Senate Republican leaders approached the podium for their weekly news conference, a familiar face was nowhere in sight.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the majority whip and second-ranking Republican, was not present in the gaggle of Senate leaders after their weekly lunch Tuesday. Cornyn continued to hint throughout the morning that he still held interest in serving as FBI director under President Donald Trump.
It turns out Cornyn was withdrawing himself from consideration at nearly the same time.
Cornyn released a statement saying he wasn’t interested in the job less than 20 minutes before Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., addressed the media.
“Where is the distinguished Republican whip?” a reporter asked McConnell. “And what does that mean about who’s going to be the new FBI director now that he has withdrawn his consideration?”
Cornyn didn’t address the media after the announcement, but he did say in a statement that whoever is nominated for the position should be “independent.”
“Now more than ever the country needs a well-credentialed, independent FBI director,” Cornyn said. “I’ve informed the administration that I’m committed to helping them find such an individual, and that the best way I can serve is continuing to fight for a conservative agenda in the U.S. Senate.”
Cornyn’s office didn’t immediately respond to a question about how the senator defines “independent.”
In the wake of a bombshell story about the president spilling classified information to the Russians and FBI Director James Comey’s stunning dismissal a week ago, whoever is nominated for the position will face intense scrutiny from both parties. Trump wants to move quickly to name Comey’s replacement.
Multiple Republican senators said in recent days that whoever is nominated should not be a partisan politician but a figure detached from legislative work in Washington.
“Well, my recommendation to the president, who apparently said today he was not interested, I’d recommended he take a look at Judge Merrick Garland,” McConnell said. “But that illustrates the kind of person I hope and expect will come next: somebody deeply credentialed in criminal justice and criminal justice enforcement, completely apolitical, in line with the tradition of prior FBI directors.”
Senate Democrats are demanding that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein name a special prosecutor for an investigation into Russia’s influence in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections before moving forward with Comey’s replacement.
“We need our Republican colleagues to join us in standing up, to put country over party and work with Democrats to get the truth of Director Comey’s firing, to protect the integrity of the investigation into Russian interference in our election and to get to the bottom of yesterday’s report,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said. “We need more than words from our Republican colleagues. We need action.”
The list of potential FBI directors continues to dwindle. Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina declined Monday, leaving former Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers as the only name still under official consideration with partisan political experience.
Cornyn’s decision ends speculation of a special election in Texas for an open Senate seat and keeps a Texan in a powerful legislative leadership position.
Lindsay Wise contributed to this report.