That’s actually a pretty good question for this odd trial balloon. Just which constituency would be reassured — or even mollified — by a Joe Lieberman nomination to replace James Comey as FBI director?
President Trump is considering former senator Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut, as a candidate for the position of FBI Director, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced Wednesday. …
Lieberman served as Connecticut’s attorney general prior to winning his senate seat in 1988, but has no previous FBI experience. He was the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2000, but lost his primary in 2006 and returned to the Senate as an independent. He retired from office in 2012. During the 2016 presidential election, he endorsed former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
What does Donald Trump need most from this nomination, beside the baseline requirement for the requisite skill set to run the nation’s premiere law enforcement agency? He needs to have someone above the political fray, a nominee who will instill confidence on both sides of the aisle, and a choice that demonstrates some degree of independence from Trump himself. Anything less will call Trump’s decision to fire Comey further into question, and raise even more concerns about the ability of the FBI to investigate properly.
How exactly does Lieberman fit those parameters? Well, he’s a Democrat, but not one that’s embraced by many in his own party. Lieberman lost his Senate primary in 2006 when progressives tried to punish him for his support for the Iraq War, just six short years after being on his party’s presidential ticket, and then ran as an independent and won a final term. He endorsed John McCain for president rather than Barack Obama in 2008. He endorsed Hillary Clinton last year, but defended Trump’s controversial pick for ambassador to Israel at a time when his party wanted a lockstep opposition to Trump’s nominees. If Trump wants a Democrat, there are probably candidates with more draw among that party’s elected officials than Lieberman.
As far as Lieberman’s independence, that may be suspect as well. Lieberman works as senior counsel at the law firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman in New York, which includes among its high-profile clients a business tycoon named Donald Trump (hat tip to Zerlina Maxwell). Trump retained Kasowitz to deal with the leak of his 1995 tax return to the New York Times, as well as to handle claims of sexual harassment/assault that arose nearly at the same time in October. The Wall Street Journal called Marc Kasowitz “Donald Trump’s go-to guy,” listing legal battles Kasowitz fought on Trump’s behalf that stretch back more than a decade. In fact, the ambassador that Lieberman defended — David Friedman — was Kasowitz’ partner in 2001 when the two first met.
Call me a wide-eyed optimist, but I doubt that even Trump-friendly Republicans in the Senate will give Trump a pass on putting a senior counsel from the law firm that represents him in charge of the FBI.
Could Lieberman do the job, though? Maybe, but as CBS notes, Lieberman has no federal law-enforcement experience, plus at 75 he probably wouldn’t do it for long. There are better choices already in play, notably Fran Townsend, who has extensive DoJ and national-security experience in both Democratic and Republican administrations, and who has a track record of standing up to Trump publicly. Townsend also has the kind of media presence that Trump usually admires.
None of this is meant to demean Joe Lieberman, who served with honor in the Senate and stood on principle when it cost him dearly with his own party. To this day, I remain convinced that had Democrats nominated Lieberman rather than John Kerry in 2004, they would have won that election, and the US might have had a much more consistent and fruitful foreign policy as a result. This position — and the current political environment — is just a bad fit for Lieberman, for Trump, and for the FBI at this time.