Politics

The Replacements: Trump Has No Shortage of Candidates to Follow Sessions

A Mueller probe skeptic and several GOP senators all make the list

Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., endorses Donald Trump to be the Republican nominee for president during a campaign rally at Madison City Schools Stadium in Madison, Ala., on Feb. 28. 2016. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

There is no shortage of candidates to replace Jeff Sessions as attorney general, and President Donald Trump could even again turn to the Senate.

Sessions and Trump clashed almost from the start, with the president even admitting he gave the former Alabama lawmaker the job out of a sense of loyalty. Sessions was the first GOP senator to endorse Trump’s 2016 White House candidacy. As Democrats warn of a constitutional crisis, the president will get to pick a nominee this time for other reasons.

The president has made clear he wants the attorney general to protect him, which experts and Democratic lawmakers say is at odds with the role of the country’s top lawyer. But with Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III continuing his Russia election probe, Trump almost certainly will demand his pick be more hands-on with that probe and also view it with the same skepticism he does.

Trump is promising to announce a nominee “at a later date.” Here are some possible replacements.

Matthew Whitaker

The 49-year-old had been Sessions’ chief of staff. He also is a former U.S. attorney in Iowa, and once sought political office as a GOP candidate. Iowa is important to Trump’s 2020 re-election plans. And another politician likely would be attractive, since the president has no qualms about using his Justice Department for his own political purposes.

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Whitaker also has been highly critical of the Mueller probe, though that could hinder a potential nomination with a few moderate Republican senators who support allowing the special counsel to finish his work. “It does not take a lawyer or even a former federal prosecutor like myself to conclude that investigating Donald Trump’s finances or his family’s finances falls completely outside of the realm of his 2016 campaign and allegations that the campaign coordinated with the Russian government or anyone else,” he wrote in a 2017 CNN op-ed.

Rod Rosenstein

Social media was abuzz Wednesday afternoon that the deputy attorney general would be next as Trump zeroes in on the Mueller probe, which he again Wednesday said should be ended soon because “there was no collusion” between his 2016 campaign and Russians. Trump and Rosenstein have publicly butted heads, and the president has also criticized his handling of the Mueller investigation.

But, notably, the two recently mended fences during an Air Force One chat. And days before that, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly appeared to deliver a vote of confidence in Rosenstein when he purposely walked him to his vehicle following a meeting — making sure television cameras got a shot of them together. And Trump has since said the two have a “good relationship.” Also notable: Like Sessions, Rosenstein has been an architect of the Trump Justice Department’s agenda. And he’s already been confirmed by the Senate, where he is respected by members of both parties.

Pam Bondi

The outgoing Florida attorney general, Pam Bondi has long been a Trump ally. She met with the then-president elect at Trump Tower following his 2016 victory and was considered for a Cabinet position two years ago. Her tussles with former President Barack Obama no doubt will appeal to Trump, who is ever-mindful of a need to assuage his conservative base.

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But the 52-year-old might prefer cashing in after her term expires by heading for a lucrative private-sector position — or positions. That could include some kind of cable news show or job — where she still would have the president’s ear without a public servant’s salary.

The Senators

There’s Sen. Ted Cruz, a former Texas solicitor general. But he just won a hard-fought re-election fight with Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and his nomination would spark a special election. And Trump and Cruz once had a rocky relationship to say the least, but have — publicly, at least — reconciled. There’s also Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who could become Judiciary Committee chairman if Charles E. Grassley of Iowa opts to leave the panel. Graham has said he doesn’t want a Cabinet post — but one wasn’t vacant when he said that.

Choosing Grassley would give the veteran senator a Cabinet post that would be a career punctuation mark while giving him a chance to continue what Sessions started. Mike Lee of Utah is another Judiciary Committee member who might get a look. He often is mentioned as a potential Supreme Court nominee under Republican presidents. Tapping a senator might make the confirmation process a mere battle, rather than a partisan war like that of now-Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.

Kris Kobach

If the president wants a fight — and his performance during a Wednesday press conference suggests he isn’t opposed to one — he might select the outgoing Kansas secretary of state. Projected to lose his re-election bid, Kobach has repeatedly been praised by Trump over his hardline immigration policies and was a leader of his short-lived voter fraud commission. But those immigration policies might be too tough to garner confirmation — though it would be a wink toward Trump’s base.

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