Trump Advisers Assess Whether To Keep FBI Director James Comey Comey has nearly seven years left on his term but became a divisive figure during the presidential campaign. The Trump team is also considering how to fill critical Justice Department vacancies.

Trump Advisers Assess Whether To Keep FBI Director James Comey

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

For more than seven years, the Justice Department has focused on investigating discrimination and excessive force by police. But soon that could change as Donald Trump shifts priorities and installs his own leadership at the DOJ. Here with us to talk about this is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hi.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So let's start with the personnel. Who might become the next attorney general?

JOHNSON: Donald Trump is not a lawyer himself, but some of his top advisers are and they have Justice Department experience. Rudy Giuliani was the top prosecutor in New York. He went on to become the third in command at the Justice Department. And Senator Jeff Sessions, another close Trump adviser from Alabama, was a U.S. attorney. But, Kelly, it's not clear either of those men actually want to be the next attorney general.

They both have really long records and histories that Democrats in the Senate might try to exploit in a confirmation hearing. It could be the Trump administration's looking for a lower-key person, someone who has justice experience and also a lot of national security experience post 9/11.

MCEVERS: In theory, the current FBI director, James Comey, has almost seven years left on his term. Will he stay in his job?

JOHNSON: Well, I've been hearing from sources that some advisors to Trump want James Comey to go. They're not happy about the way he handled the investigation of Hillary Clinton's emails. And the thinking by some people is the FBI director is really unpredictable. And in a new administration, you might not want that. Trump got asked this question on "60 Minutes" by interviewer Lesley Stahl.

Here's what he had to say about the FBI chief then.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")

DONALD TRUMP: I would certainly like to talk to him and see him - this is a tough time for him. And I would like to talk to him before I answer a question like that.

LESLEY STAHL: Sounds like you're not sure.

TRUMP: Oh, sure. I'm not sure. I'd want to see, you know - he may have had very good reasons for doing what he did.

JOHNSON: So, Kelly, no commitment one way or the other there.

MCEVERS: Can the president fire the FBI director?

JOHNSON: Actually, yes. The FBI director serves at the pleasure of the president. It's not unprecedented for a White House to ask the FBI chief to resign or push when the FBI director doesn't want to go. That actually happened early in the Bill Clinton administration. But the question now for the Trump team is whether they'll get a lot of political blowback if they decide to push out James Comey.

MCEVERS: So how might the Justice Department change its priorities under Trump?

JOHNSON: Donald Trump's focused a lot on law and order during the campaign, devoting more resources to fighting drug gangs and violence, even though crime's pretty low by historical standards. In the next DOJ, there could be major pushback against adversarial relations with police departments. I expect to see fewer federal investigations of police, a more hands-off approach.

And Trump's also talked a lot on the campaign trail about the need to beef up the country's cyber defenses, national security surveillance. The Justice Department has a hand in all those things.

MCEVERS: There's been a lot of talk during the campaign about getting a special prosecutor to investigate, you know, Trump's political opponent Hillary Clinton. How likely is that?

JOHNSON: Well, at rallies, Donald Trump supporters have chanted lock her up. And it was actually a message at the Republican National Convention over the summer. Trump himself has talked about investigating Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. But since the election, Kelly, his rhetoric has not been as heated. Trump's now saying he wants to focus on infrastructure, immigration, other priorities.

Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, are kind of all over the map. Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, says lawmakers are probably not going to make investigating Hillary Clinton a priority. But Jason Chaffetz, a lawmaker from Utah who leads the House Oversight Committee, says he wants to keep on going, keep on investigating Clinton and the Foundation.

MCEVERS: That's NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thanks a lot.

JOHNSON: You're welcome.

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