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SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee floated an intriguing name Thursday to replace James Comey as director of the FBI: Merrick Garland.
"Maybe the president should nominate him," the Utah Republican said. "If he did, I think he could be overwhelmingly confirmed, and I think he’d have the confidence of the American people — of Democrats and Republicans alike."
Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, was President Barack Obama's choice last year to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Senate Republicans refused to hold a hearing for Garland and his nomination expired. President Donald Trump chose and the Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch last month to succeed the late Antonin Scalia.
"This is not an overly political office, and it need not be of concern to people that this someone who in the past has been nominated by a Democratic president as Jim Comey himself had been," Lee said on KSL Newsradio's "The Doug Wright Show."
Later in the day, Lee pitched the idea to Vice President Mike Pence and other senior Trump administration officials at the White House, according to Fox Business.
Pence and White House counsel Don McGahn were said to have seen merit in the idea of Garland as FBI chief, while others in the White House said it was a nonstarter given Garland's affiliation with the Obama administration, Fox reported. Among those who voiced doubt was White House staff secretary Rob Porter, Sen. Orrin Hatch's former chief of staff.
Lee was already scheduled to go to the White House on Wednesday with a group of other conservative senators to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin about tax reform, according to Lee spokesman Conn Carroll.
Instead of a special prosecutor, @realDonaldTrump should nominate Merrick Garland to replace James Comey.— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) May 11, 2017
While there but not during the meeting, Lee talked with several senior White House staff about the possibility of Trump picking Garland to replace Comey, he said.
The reaction was mixed. Some loved the idea, while others did not, Carroll said.
Lee in the KSL interview described Garland as a "tried and proven" man of law enforcement with experiences in high-profiles cases involving the Unabomber and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
The president's abrupt firing of Comey this week has some Democrats calling for a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation into Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia, especially given Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Lee is not of that mind, posting Thursday on Twitter: "Instead of a special prosecutor, @realDonald Trump should nominate Merrick Garland to replace James Comey."
At least one Senate colleague, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., applauded Lee's suggestion but still wants a special prosecutor.
"Good idea @SenMikeLee. Former prosecutor Merrick Garland for FBI Director is great idea. Need special prosecutor too," she tweeted.
Klobuchar, however, later tweeted, "To be clear, this isn't going to happen. I RTed bc it's a good idea for Rs to think about consensus FBI candidates."
Hatch, R-Utah, told reporters Thursday that he agreed with Lee that Garland at least deserved to be considered for the job, according to the Washington Post.
"Merrick’s a very fine man," Hatch said. "I like him a lot."