WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he is "very close" to naming a new FBI director.
An announcement could come Friday, the soft deadline Trump set for himself. The president departs Friday on his inaugural overseas trip, a four-country, five-stop journey tour of the Middle East and Europe that will keep him out of the country for more than a week.
"We're very close to an FBI director," Trump said Thursday when asked about the search during an Oval Office appearance with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. He said an announcement could come "soon" and that former Sen. Joe Lieberman was among his top candidates.
Lieberman was among four candidates Trump interviewed at the White House this week. The former Connecticut senator flashed a thumbs-up as he left the White House on Wednesday after meeting with Trump and said they had a "good meeting."
Trump also met with former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating; Richard McFeely, a former top FBI official; and acting FBI director Andrew McCabe.
Trump needs a new FBI director because he fired James Comey last week, an unexpected move that drew bipartisan criticism. Comey was overseeing the FBI's investigation into Russia's role in the presidential election, including ties between Russian government officials and Trump associates.
In an attempt to quell the furor over Comey's ouster, the Justice Department this week hired former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to oversee the investigation. Trump has denounced the probe as a "witch hunt."
The Senate must confirm Trump's candidate for the FBI job.
Word of Lieberman's standing in the candidate search drew a mixed reaction from Capitol Hill, with Senate Republicans praising the Democrat turned independent, and Democrats seeming less than enthused about their former colleague.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called Lieberman a "pillar of credibility." Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said Lieberman "may be the only potential nominee that could get 100 votes that I know of. Everybody likes and respects Joe Lieberman."
But several Democratic senators said during a caucus lunch Thursday that they would not support Lieberman, according to a person familiar with the meeting who declined to be identified because the lunch was private.
Among their concerns was Lieberman's past praise of Michael Flynn, Trump's first national security adviser, who was fired in February after misleading officials about his talks with Russian officials. Flynn has figured prominently in the FBI investigation into Russia and the election.
A Nov. 25 news release from Trump's transition team quoted Lieberman praising Trump's selection of K.T. McFarland as deputy national security adviser. Lieberman added that McFarland "and General Mike Flynn will form a very strong leadership team at the National Security Council."
Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, a Democratic think tank, said Lieberman lacks law enforcement experience and is too close to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a former U.S. senator. Lieberman testified in support of Sessions at his January confirmation hearing.
Lieberman served in the Senate for more than two decades and was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000 with Al Gore, then the sitting vice president. Lieberman lost his 2006 Democratic primary bid but won Senate re-election as a third-party candidate.
Lieberman spoke at the 2008 Republican National Convention on behalf of his friend, Arizona Sen. John McCain, and did not seek re-election in 2012. He has served as co-chairman of No Labels, a centrist group that promotes bipartisanship.
Keating, a Republican, was a two-term governor of Oklahoma and led the state during the deadly 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City. A former FBI agent, Keating served in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Keating told his hometown newspaper after the interview that he doesn't expect to be chosen.
McCabe, an FBI veteran, made headlines for congressional testimony last week that rejected White House claims that Comey had lost the support of rank-and-file agents. He also disputed the administration's characterization of the Russia investigation.
Several candidates have withdrawn from consideration: Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.; Cornyn; Alice Fisher, the former head of the Justice Department's criminal division; and Michael Garcia, a former U.S. attorney from Manhattan.
Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Eric Tucker contributed to this report.
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