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Say it ain't Joe (for FBI director)

It’s not news that President Trump is capable of choosing unlikely appointees for important positions — though, as he might put it, some, I assume, are good people.

The latest personnel puzzle is the presence of former Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut on the shortlist of possible successors to fired FBI Director James B. Comey.

When the Los Angeles Times editorialized the other day about replacing Comey, we suggested the next FBI director must be “a professional law enforcement official with an impeccable reputation, familiarity with federal law enforcement, no taint of partisanship and no political, personal or business connection to Trump.”

Lieberman doesn’t do very well judged against that checklist. He’s not a professional law enforcement official — he did serve as Connecticut’s elected attorney general, but that was in the 1980s — and, while he dealt with federal law enforcement agencies as a U.S. senator, he left the Senate in 2013.

As for partisanship, Lieberman was originally elected to the Senate as a Democrat and was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2000. He also sought that party’s presidential nomination in 2004. But after losing the Democratic Senate primary in 2006, he ran and won reelection as an independent and he endorsed Republican John McCain for president in the 2008 election. So he’s bipartisan, but in a polarizing way.

“I don’t think there's going to be much excitement about that from our side of the aisle,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told Politico. “Not because we don’t respect Joe Lieberman. But we need a law enforcement professional, not someone who’s run for office before.”

Lieberman isn’t a Trump intimate and the two men also seem to have policy differences; for example, Lieberman supported the Iraq war and Trump claims to have opposed it. But the New York Times reports that Lieberman is friendly with Atty. Gen. (and former Alabama Sen.) Jeff Sessions, creating one degree of social separation from Trump.

Also, Lieberman is 75. The FBI director has a statutory 10-year-term (though, as Comey’s firing demonstrates, a president can cut it short). Is it ageist to suggest that Trump ought to look for a younger candidate? I don’t think so.

Finally, it’s impossible to separate the search for an FBI director from the circumstances surrounding the departure of the last one. According to Comey’s associates, the former FBI director noted in a memo that Trump had asked him to shut down an investigation of former national security advisor Michael Flynn. On Thursday the New York Times reported that Comey believed that Trump and his aides had made other inappropriate contacts that he felt compelled to resist.

Against this background, public confidence requires that the next FBI director not be a friend of Trump’s — or a friend of a friend — or a career politician. Lieberman has had a long and interesting career in government. He doesn’t need this job, and he’s not a good fit for it. If Trump offers it to him, he should decline.

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