White House

Trump to meet with Florida’s Bondi as he searches for new attorney general

In this March 29, 2017 file photo, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi speaks at the Women’s Empowerment Panel, at the White House in Washington. Protesters confronted Bondi at a showing of a documentary about children’s TV host Fred Rogers, and they questioned the Republican’s stands on immigration and health care. The Tampa Bay Times reports Bondi received a police escort Friday, June 22, 2018, when several members of Organize Florida confronted her as she left a Tampa theater after seeing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” about Mr. Rogers.
In this March 29, 2017 file photo, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi speaks at the Women’s Empowerment Panel, at the White House in Washington. Protesters confronted Bondi at a showing of a documentary about children’s TV host Fred Rogers, and they questioned the Republican’s stands on immigration and health care. The Tampa Bay Times reports Bondi received a police escort Friday, June 22, 2018, when several members of Organize Florida confronted her as she left a Tampa theater after seeing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” about Mr. Rogers. AP Photo

President Donald Trump will meet with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi — who is on his short list be his next attorney general — while he vacations at his Mar-A-Lago resort in Palm Beach for Thanksgiving next week, according to a source close to the president.

Bondi, Florida’s first female attorney general, is finishing her second term. She is not legally allowed to run again, and has been mentioned as a possible administration appointee since Trump became president last year.

Bondi was a Trump surrogate during the 2016 presidential campaign and, more recently, a member of the president’s Opioid and Drug Abuse Commission.

Three sources said Trump is seriously considering Bondi for the job. Bondi’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Trump is considering several other well-known officials for attorney general, including Janice Rogers Brown, a retired circuit judge and former California Supreme Court justice who has spoken to the White House about the job, according to a second source familiar with the search.

One name not on Trump’s list is Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state and architect of one of the nation’s toughest immigration laws, according to the two sources and another person close to the president.

The president had initially considered Kobach, who was defeated last week in his bid for governor, for various positions at the Department of Homeland Security but apparently has soured on him after his electoral loss.

Trump abruptly fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week after criticizing him repeatedly for recusing himself from oversight of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump aides colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.

Trump 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. Democrats have been calling for Whitaker to recuse himself from Mueller’s investigation because he has been critical of it.

Trump will likely pick someone he has had a relationship with, according to one of the sources. That list could include former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a longtime Trump ally who does not get along with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a top White House aide. As a U.S. attorney, Christie prosecuted Kushner’s father.

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Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker speaks to state and local law enforcement officials at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, in Des Moines, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall AP Photo

Christie said this week he has not been contacted about the job but he did speak to Kushner when he was at the White House for a meeting on prison reform, a source said.

Trump and Bondi have been in regular contact since the Nov. 6 election as Florida embarked on recounts in both the governor and Senate races. The president endorsed Republicans Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott in those two contests and was heavily involved in the governor’s race.

Bondi received a $25,000 campaign donation in 2013 from a charity run by Trump as her office was looking into complaints from customers of Trump University, which was the subject of a class action lawsuit in New York. Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee had requested the Justice Department to look into whether Trump paid off Bondi. She denied that the two actions were connected.

Trump, who spends much of the winter in Florida, is expected to spend several days at his Mar-A-Lago resort next week.

Several conservative lawyers are recommending Brown, who stepped down last year after serving a dozen years on the D.C. circuit court, where she served alongside now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. She does not have an existing relationship with Trump.

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 and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. Of those, Trump only has a relationship with Azar.

Retiring Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, have said they do not want the job.

Bryan Lowry in Washington contributed.
Anita Kumar: 202-383-6017, @anitakumar01
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