Dems Turn on Their Own: Oppose Lieberman for FBI

Senate Democrats, eager to spite Trump, voice opposition to their former veep nominee

by Brendan Kirby | Updated 20 May 2017 at 12:40 AM

If President Donald Trump was expecting a rare bipartisan moment by floating former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman as the front-runner for FBI director, he must be disappointed.

The president has not even announced his decision, and Democrats already are denouncing the idea. It is a remarkable rejection of a man whose ethics have never been questioned and who carried the Democratic Party banner as the 2000 candidate for vice president.

“Do you really think they’re not going to dump cold water on Jesus Christ himself?”

“There’s a strong feeling among many of my colleagues, and I share it, that the director of the FBI should be someone with a real strong background and expertise and experience in criminal justice, rather than partisan politics,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told CNN on Friday.

And that is from Lieberman’s home-state senator. The other senator from Connecticut, Democrat Chris Murphy, told Politico on Thursday that he was concerned about Lieberman’s political background.

“This is a moment for someone with a law enforcement background,” he told the publication. “It’s really important to restore people’s faith in the FBI.”

Lieberman ticked off Democrats by breaking ranks and endorsing Republican John McCain for president in 2008. That came two years after he refused to accept his loss in the Democratic primary and won re-election to the Senate as an independent.

Still, he continued to caucus with the Democrats in the Senate, and he had previously served as Connecticut's attorney general, so he is not a law enforcement novice. And no one has ever questioned Lieberman's integrity.

James Kallstrom, a former assistant FBI director, told LifeZette that Lieberman would not be his first choice. But he said people should not doubt his independence.

"He doesn't know anything about the FBI, but he's an honest guy who has a lot of ethics," he said.

Kallstrom said opposition from Democrats has more to do with fighting Trump than concerns about Lieberman himself.

"Do you really think they're not going to dump cold water on Jesus Christ himself?" he asked.

Ken Boehm, chairman of the board of directors at the National Legal and Policy Center, said he believes Trump ultimately will nominate someone else. But he said Lieberman should be acceptable.

"From a political standpoint, it's probably a good move because he's a Democrat," he said. "On the Hill, he had a reputation for being very independent."

Boehm noted that Lieberman is close to McCain, who has been one of the president's fiercest Republican critics.

"You could argue that if Trump was trying to pick someone who was really in his corner, he wouldn't pick McCain's good buddy," he said.

With the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the concern over the next FBI director should be diminished. Could the FBI director shut down the Russia probe even if he wanted to?

"No, not all," Kallstrom said. "The special counsel has total authority over everything."

Still, Democrats across the spectrum have criticized the idea.

"From my perspective at this time, what the FBI needs is a professional prosecutor, someone who is not considered to be political, someone who is considered to be a professional who has had a deep career in law enforcement," Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) told CNN on Friday. "Basically bringing the same kind of credibility that Robert Mueller is now bringing to the investigation that had been botched inside of the FBI."

Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats, told the network: "Never had a politician head of the FBI. I don't care whether it's Hamilton, Jefferson or Lincoln — or Lieberman. I just don't think that's the right pick at this moment, given all of the events that are swirling around the FBI."

Even Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the Senate's most conservative Democrat, panned the idea.

"Any other time, man, Joe is an excellent, excellent, choice," Manchin told Politico.

Some on the Left also have accused Lieberman of having a conflict of interest because his law firm, Kasowitz, Benson, Torres Friedman LLP,  has represented Trump in lawsuits when he was a private citizen. But the firm has 350 lawyers in nine cities.

Boehm, whose organization is an ethics watchdog, said that should not be a concern.

"At the most, it would be a very, very de minimis deal," he said. "First of all, that's a giant law firm."

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