Trump considering Christie, Bondi, Acosta for attorney general

President Donald Trump is considering former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Attorney General Pam...

Posted: Nov 9, 2018 7:14 AM
Updated: Nov 9, 2018 7:14 AM

President Donald Trump is considering former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to replace fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, sources familiar with the matter said.

Trump fired Sessions on Wednesday without immediately naming a replacement, instead installing Sessions' chief of staff Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general. Both Christie and Bondi are longtime political allies of the President's and were initially considered contenders for the Justice Department perch during the transition.

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Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta also is under consideration, according to a senior Senate Republican aide and a source familiar with the process.

Given Trump's long-standing frustrations with Sessions, other potential contenders have cropped up in Trump-friendly circles in recent months, including Whitaker, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, former Judge John Michael Luttig, Judge Edith Jones, former Judge Janice Rogers Brown, retiring Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina.

If nominated, Christie, a former US attorney, could face similar calls to the ones Sessions faced to recuse himself from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation given his role as a prominent 2016 campaign surrogate for Trump. But unlike Sessions, there is no indication he had contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign or transition.

Christie attended a previously scheduled law enforcement roundtable on prison reform efforts at the White House on Thursday morning, an administration official and source familiar with the meeting said.

Christie then met privately with the President's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner to further discuss prison reform issues, an administration official who works on the prison reform effort said.

Kushner and Christie have long been reported to have bad blood stemming from Christie's role as US attorney in prosecuting Kushner's father on 18 counts of tax evasion, witness tampering and illegal campaign donations.

But the administration official said Kushner and Christie have a good relationship.

"They've been working really closely on this for months," the administration official said. "Despite the fact that people have suggested otherwise, the two have a really close and good working relationship, particularly as it relates to prison reform."

The official did not believe Christie met with Trump on Thursday.

Prison reform has been a key agenda item for Kushner and Christie would likely be an important ally in that effort were he to be tapped for attorney general.

While Christie has been a friend of Trump's since before the 2016 campaign, the former New Jersey governor has been critical of Trump's handling of the Mueller investigation and instead praised Mueller amid the President's public criticism of the special counsel.

"I've told him (Trump) many times that there's no way to make an investigation like this shorter, but there's lots of ways to make it longer, and he's executed on a number of those ways to make it longer," Christie said in May at the University of Chicago, while calling Mueller "an honest ... hard-working guy."

Christie has also rejected arguments by Trump's personal legal team that the President cannot obstruct justice, calling it "an outrageous claim" on ABC this summer.

Christie has not responded to CNN requests for comment.

For her part, Bondi's second and final term as attorney general will end in January, but her spokesman declined to say whether she is under consideration for the top Justice Department job.

"As the attorney general has repeatedly said, she has not yet made a decision as to what she will do next," Bondi spokesman Whitney Ray said in an email.

Bondi could face significant hurdles to confirmation over a controversy surrounding the $25,000 contribution her political action committee received from Trump's foundation during her 2014 re-election bid. The donation came around the time Bondi's office was reviewing complaints about Trump University and Democrats leveled allegations of impropriety after her office declined to pursue an investigation into Trump University fraud allegations.

A Florida ethics panel cleared Bondi of wrongdoing last year.

Many Trump allies like Bondi, who appears frequently on Fox News, and she has long enjoyed a good relationship with the President.

Acosta, however, has already been confirmed, is seen as less of a headache than some others under consideration and is aligned with the Federalist Society, which has deep ties to the White House and top Senate Republicans. The source familiar with the process described other names in the running, like Bondi, as "unconfirmable."

Acosta is receiving praise from notable Washington attorneys and GOP allies.

"Given Secretary Acosta's track record -- former Supreme Court clerk, former senior official at DOJ, former US attorney -- he would be a strong choice to be the next attorney general," said Matthew Heiman, former Justice Department national security attorney.

CNN has reached out to Acosta for comment.

The White House has not responded to CNN requests for comment.

Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the President, declined to name contenders for the attorney general job, but said several people are in contention for the post.

"There are many people in contention for that position just because there are many qualified people who would like to do it," Kellyanne Conway told reporters at the White House on Thursday.

It is not clear when Trump intends to nominate a candidate for attorney general. Whitaker can serve in the position as acting attorney general for 210 days, according to the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.

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