Kris Kobach lost his race for governor Tuesday, but speculation has already begun that President Donald Trump might hand him control of the U.S. Department of Justice as a consolation prize.
The Kansas secretary of state’s name immediately began floating around political circles as one of several potential candidates for Trump’s next attorney general after it was announced Wednesday that Trump had fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The president also is considering Janice Rogers Brown, a retired D.C. circuit judge and former California Supreme Court justice who is well-liked in conservative circles, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Brown, who served alongside with Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, has spoken to the White House about the job in recent weeks, even before Trump fired Sessions.
Several other high-profile officials, including retiring Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, have also been mentioned. Her office declined to comment.
Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, a surprised Kobach replied, “No comment.”
Trump considered Kobach, the architect of the some of the nation’s toughest immigration and voting laws, for various jobs at the start of his term but some aides did not think he could be confirmed by the Senate, where Republicans hold a slim majority.
Kobach met with Trump shortly after the 2016 election to discuss plans for the Department of Homeland Security. Kobach said last year that he had been offered roles in the administration, but turned them down to pursue the governor’s office.
“I hated that he ran because I would have loved to have brought him into my administration,” Trump told a crowd in Topeka last month.
“I hope he loses because I want him so badly. But don’t do that.”
Trump’s words proved to be prophetic. Democrat Laura Kelly defeated Kobach by 5 percentage points Tuesday.
Kobach’s campaign manager, J.R. Claeys, said the Republican is “well-suited” to become attorney general.
“It does make complete sense,” Claeys said. “I haven’t had any discussions with him where this has come up... just knowing Kris as well as I do now, and knowing his history and knowing his relationship with the president and the trust he has from the president, I think it’s definitely a possibility.”
Kansas GOP chair Kelly Arnold said that he expects Trump will “find a place for him in his administration. He is very supportive of Kris Kobach.”
Arnold suggested Trump might wait until January when newly elected GOP senators, such as Missouri’s Josh Hawley, could cast their votes for the Kansas Republican.
Kobach was found in contempt of federal court this year and ordered to undergo six hours of legal training after he unsuccessfully represented his office against a federal lawsuit against the state’s proof of citizenship law.
His legal work on immigration has also come under scrutiny. An investigation by The Kansas City Star and ProPublica found that small cities that listened to Kobach on immigration policy wound up paying hefty legal bills in defense of ineffective ordinances.
Sessions had long been a target of Trump’s ire for recusing himself from oversight of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Sessions had been a campaign adviser to Trump in 2016.
Trump immediately named Matthew Whitaker, who had been Sessions’ chief of staff at the Justice Department and served as U.S. attorney in Iowa, as acting attorney general.
In Whitaker, Trump gets a partisan warrior. He has been the director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, a non-profit organization which lists its mission as ethics and transparency in government.
The foundation got national attention for its efforts to stymie President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Whitaker’s foundation wrote to Harvard University, trying to pressure it to release information about then-student Garland and campus efforts to ban military recruiters during the Vietnam war.
The foundation’s most recent publicly available tax filing, covering the 2016 tax year, show Whitaker collected a salary of $402,000 for his work leading the non-profit. The tax documents show it paid $180,150 for research conducted by America Rising LLC, a political action committee that collects opposition research on Democratic candidates. The 2015 tax return shows similar figures.
The foundation last year paid $134,119 to Creative Response Concepts, a conservative political public relations company famous for helping creating the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004.
Whitaker is a graduate of the University of Iowa, where he played tight end for the Hawkeyes’ football squad from 1990 to 1992.
Other names reportedly being mentioned for the permanent position include Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Transportation Department general counsel Steven Bradbury, former Attorney General Bill Barr, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan.
Retiring Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, have said they do not want the job.