Republican Sen. Mike Lee garnered attention Thursday after tweeting that President Donald Trump should appoint none other than Judge Merrick Garland — President Barack Obama’s choice to fill a vacant Supreme Court seat last year — to replace ousted FBI Director James Comey.
Lee, one of the most conservative members of the Senate and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, pitched the idea to White House officials Wednesday following a previously scheduled meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to discuss tax reform, his communications director told Business Insider.
“Some of whom like the idea and others of whom did not,” said Conn Caroll, Lee’s communications director, adding that Lee did not directly pitch the idea to Trump.
The idea caught wind early Thursday after Lee’s tweet. Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, with whom Carroll said Lee discussed the proposition, tweeted that it was a “great idea.”
“Former prosecutor Merrick Garland for FBI Director is great idea,” she wrote. She said, however, that there needs to be a “special prosecutor too” to look into any potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government officials, an investigation the FBI has had underway since late July.
Fox Business reporter Charlie Gasparino reported that Vice President Mike Pence is a fan of the idea.
The idea was met with some contempt on the left. If Garland were appointed to lead the FBI, as some noted, Trump would be able to increase the number of conservatives on the DC Circuit Court bench where Garland currently sits.
Carroll went into some of Lee’s thinking behind the idea while speaking to Business Insider.
“Before he was a judge, Garland was a longtime federal prosecutor, including overseeing the Unabomber and Oklahoma City bombing investigations and prosecutions, and obviously he’s well-respected on both sides of the aisle,” he said. “So we would be able to restore trust to the FBI, which I think everyone acknowledges had some problems while Comey’s been director. So that was the thinking there.”
Carroll said the role of the Senate “is not to demand a special prosecutor” but to “advise and consent on who” Comey’s replacement will be.
“And Sen. Lee is doing that job,” he said.
When Garland was nominated in March 2016 to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court opened by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, Republican tactics prevented him from receiving a confirmation hearing or vote. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used the vacant Supreme Court seat as a campaign issue for the fall, saying the vacancy should be filled by the next president.
It worked, and Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy shortly after his inauguration. Democrats attempted similar obstructionist tactics, but without a Senate majority, they were unable to stop Gorsuch’s confirmation.