President Donald Trump is expected to nominate a new FBI director quickly, perhaps as early as this week.
The choice is critical. The president has a chance to invigorate the nation’s primary criminal investigative agency by finding a director with impeccable nonpartisan credentials.
That should be the president’s priority.
The firing of former director James Comey was highly suspicious. It may have disrupted ongoing investigations into alleged Trump campaign collusion with Russians and business ties between Russia and Trump entities.
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The dismissal also may have tarnished the reputation of the FBI, which has found itself mired in multiple investigations with distinct political components.
For that reason, the president must avoid choosing any political figure, past or present, for the job.
Picking Sen. John Cornyn of Texas or Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina would send an unmistakable signal the president considers this a patronage position, open only to members of his own party.
That would be wrong on the merits — the president should pick the most qualified candidate, regardless of party — but it would be bad politics, too.
Turning the directorship into a political post would invite the next Democratic president to fire and replace any Republican who holds the position. Congress gave the director a 10-year term precisely to avoid that kind of decision.
It would be a monumental mistake to allow the FBI to be blemished with even the perception that it’s now an agency with a specific partisan agenda, a tool, in essence, for presidents to punish their political enemies.
There are undoubtedly qualified, nonpartisan law enforcement officials inside and outside of the FBI who could serve as the agency’s director.
We know that because it has happened before: Clarence Kelley of Kansas City and William Webster of St. Louis served under Republican and Democratic administrations, as did Louis Freeh, Robert Mueller and, yes, Comey.
We’re deeply worried about reports that Trump expects “loyalty” from the next FBI director. Loyalty to the president should never be a requirement for the nation’s chief law enforcement official, particularly when that president is facing legal scrutiny.
The FBI director’s loyalty should be to the country and the law.
Senate Republicans, including those from our area, must insist on such a nominee. At that point, Democrats have a responsibility, too.
Some Democrats say they’ll block consideration of any nominee unless the Justice Department appoints a special prosecutor to examine Russian involvement with the election and Trump.
That would be a mistake. A special prosecutor might be warranted, but there are already too many decisions in Washington held hostage by one side or the other.
Democrats should ask the nominee to promise a vigorous investigation of any Russian ties. That should be part of a larger commitment to pursue any illegal behavior, regardless of party or position.
We’re confident that director is out there. Trump should find this nonpartisan nominee, and the Senate should confirm the choice.