Trump considering retired judge as attorney general

Janice Rogers Brown served on the California Supreme Court and, after a tough confirmation fight, on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Janice Rogers Brown served on the California Supreme Court and, after a tough confirmation fight, on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. AP file

President Donald Trump is seriously considering naming Janice Rogers Brown, a retired D.C. circuit judge and former California Supreme Court justice who is well-liked in conservative circles, his next attorney general, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Brown, who served alongside with now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, has spoken to the White House about the job in recent weeks, even before Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday. Several conservative lawyers are recommending Brown, who is black. She stepped down last year after serving a dozen years.

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.

Several other high-profile officials, including Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and retiring Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, have also been mentioned.

Trump considered Kobach, architect of one of the nation’s toughest immigration 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.

At a rally in Topeka earlier this year, Trump talked about his affection for Kobach, whom he endorsed for governor. “So a man that’s been with me from the beginning, he’s tough, he’s strong and I hated that he ran because I would have loved to have brought him into my administration, effectively loses, I’ll bring him into my administration in two seconds,” he said. “I hope he loses because I want him so badly. But don’t do that.”

Trump appointed Kobach to lead his presidential commission into voter fraud, which was eventually disbanded after states refused to turn over data.

Kobach’s campaign manager, J.R. Claeys, said Kobach, who lost his bid to become governor Tuesday, 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.”

Bondi, who is term-limited, will be replaced by former Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Ashley Moody, who was elected Tuesday. Her office declined to comment.

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.

Bryan Lowry and Hunter Woodall in Kansas City contributed.

Anita Kumar: 202-383-6017, @anitakumar01

Kevin G. Hall: 202-383-6038, @KevinGHall