Will John Cornyn Lead The FBI? And If He Does, Who Gets His Senate Seat?

Under more normal circumstances, Texas senior senator might easily win confirmation to the top law enforcement job. But some, even fellow Republicans, are wary of a politician in the role.

By Rhonda FanningMay 15, 2017 4:30 pm,

The talk of Washington is still centered on the news from last week that President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Trump cited Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails as the reason for his dismissal, but others are worried that the firing may have had something to do with the agency’s investigation into possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign, during the election.

The search is now on for Comey’s replacement. One person on the short list to be the new FBI director is Texas Senator John Cornyn. So what makes Cornyn qualified for the FBI job, and why might he nonetheless have trouble getting confirmed by the Senate if he is nominated?

Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at the University of Houston says Cornyn does have the kind of background the Trump administration might want in an FBI director.

“He has an extensive background in the criminal justice field,” Rottinghaus says. “Cornyn is a former attorney general of Texas, and member of the state Supreme Court.

Getting confirmed as FBI director by the Senate might be difficult for Cornyn, though. Even fellow Republican senators, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, might balk at a Cornyn pick. Graham expressed reservations over the weekend about a politician serving at the FBI, particularly at a time when the agency has been perceived to be embroiled in politics.

“If this were any other circumstance, any other president, you might find Cornyn at the top of that list, and maybe not even a controversial listing,” Rottinghaus says. “But the fact that he is a political figure – the fact that he is the number two Republican in the Senate – gives him a kind of veneer that suggests partisanship.”

Cornyn met over the weekend with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is part of the Trump administration’s selection committee for the new FBI director. Rottinghaus says the administration will proceed carefully with its selection.

“The Trump White House doesn’t want to make a mistake here,” he says. “The chaos surrounding the firing of James Comey created this issue for them to have to do it perfectly this time. So they’re definitely going to be in a position where they’re going to make a very clean case, and a definitive case to the American people as well as to Congress.”

If Cornyn were selected to lead the FBI, Texas politics would immediately be overtaken with speculation about a replacement in the Senate. Governor Greg Abbott would appoint a senator, who would serve until a special election could be held to fill Cornyn’s seat.

“I think we would learn a lot about where the Republican party is likely to go,” Rottinghaus says. “Does he appoint a young, Latino Republican like George P. Bush? Does he pick somebody from the more conservative wing like Dan Patrick? That is really an interesting dilemma for the governor.”


Written by Shelly Brisbin