At least Chris Christie won’t have to resign a valuable office to get his dream job. Now that Jeff Sessions’ nightmare has concluded, the White House has opened the books for potential successors as Attorney General. The list, CBS reports, includes two figures from Donald Trump’s campaign that were rumored short-listers for the job the first time around — Rudy Giuliani and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie:
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is being considered to replace Jeff Sessions as attorney general, two sources familiar with the matter tell CBS News. President Trump forced Sessions out as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer on Wednesday, one day after Democrats captured the House in the midterm elections.
No decisions are expected soon, and the list of those being considered — which also includes Rudy Giuliani, outgoing Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, and former Attorney General William Barr, who served under President George H. W. Bush — is likely to grow in the coming days, CBS News chief White House correspondent Major Garrett reports.
The Washington Post also reports that Christie and Giuliani are under consideration. It’s serious enough with Christie that he’s already talked with Trump about the job, and that Trump doesn’t plan on keeping acting AG Matthew Whitaker in the job for long:
Two close Trump advisers said the president does not plan on keeping Whitaker permanently. Among those said to be under consideration for the job are Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, former U.S. attorney general Bill Barr and former federal judges Janice Rogers Brown and J. Michael Luttig. An administration official said the president has also considered selecting another U.S. senator for the position, on the grounds that a lawmaker might have an easier confirmation, but so far GOP lawmakers have privately expressed little interest in the position.
Two other officials said former New Jersey governor Chris Christie (R) might be under consideration. One said Christie has talked with the president about the job.
That list has some impressive names on it, especially Luttig’s, whom Hugh Hewitt has been hailing as the best choice. They’re not likely to take it, though, especially after watching what Sessions went through. The contrast between Trump’s concept of the job as a “wingman,” rather than the mostly independent law-enforcement officer that Sessions envisioned, would get exponentially amplified with Luttig, Barr, or Rogers Brown. Alex Azar might be a good compromise candidate, not enough of a Trump crony to be considered a wingman by the Senate Republicans who would have to confirm him, but Azar has to wonder about moving out of a relatively safe position at HHS, too.
Both Christie and Giuliani might be too close to Trump and his campaign for comfort even with a safe number of Republicans in the Senate. They both have a similar problem as Sessions did with the Robert Mueller investigation, as CNN points out, and Christie has publicly praised Mueller’s selection as special counsel:
If nominated, Christie, a former US attorney, could face similar calls to the ones Sessions faced to recuse himself from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation given his role as a prominent 2016 campaign surrogate for Trump. But unlike Sessions, there is no indication he had contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign or transition.
While Christie has been a friend of Trump’s since before the 2016 campaign, the former New Jersey governor has been critical of Trump’s handling of the Mueller investigation and instead praised Mueller amid the President’s public criticism of the special counsel.
“I’ve told him (Trump) many times that there’s no way to make an investigation like this shorter, but there’s lots of ways to make it longer, and he’s executed on a number of those ways to make it longer,” Christie said in May at the University of Chicago, while calling Mueller “an honest … hard-working guy.”
Christie has also rejected arguments by Trump’s personal legal team that the President cannot obstruct justice, calling it “an outrageous claim” on ABC this summer.
There’s no way Republicans will put another Trump campaign figure in charge of the Department of Justice while Mueller’s still working, right? Well, maybe it won’t be a problem after all:
NEW: Mueller's team has begun writing its final report, multiple sources told CNN. https://t.co/1Njy3lu2ny
— David P Gelles (@gelles) November 8, 2018
Mitch McConnell won’t take up the confirmation of a new AG until January, when he has more votes for success, regardless of who the nominee is. Mueller has two months to finish and hand off the report to Rod Rosenstein without any interference, unless Whitaker plans to make himself infamous and unconfirmable in any future appointment for the rest of his life. By the time this comes up, the potential conflicts of interest will have almost certainly been mooted.
Both Christie and Giuliani have other issues, though. Giuliani has been acting as Trump’s personal attorney and legal spokesman for several months, and even 54 Republicans in the Senate won’t be enough to put Rudy in as AG after his advocacy. Giuliani will face questions about Bridgegate in any confirmation hearing as well as his work on Trump’s campaign. Does Christie bring enough to the table for the White House to reopen that scandal and embrace it as their own? Christie would otherwise make a good AG candidate, so maybe, but they might want to look for candidates with less baggage and similar loyalty first.
That makes Pam Bondi a strong candidate. She’s got the same experience Christie does as an AG at the state level, and she’s been aboard the Trump train since it pulled out of the station. Nominating a woman for the position makes political sense, especially as it might blunt the “Trump crony” argument somewhat, although she still would face questions about that Trump Foundation contribution to her re-election PAC (later withdrawn) and her decision not to join a lawsuit against the foundation. Unlike Azar, she won’t have to resign a valuable office, as her second term as Florida AG will come to its natural end in early January. If Trump wants a wingman, Bondi might be the most confirmable of the bunch.