WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump said that he could have a new FBI director in place before he departs for his first overseas trip on Friday, an ambitious goal that would give him just seven days to fill one of the most important and sensitive posts in government.
"Even that is possible," the President said aboard Air Force One when asked whether he might make a selection before leaving for Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican.
Mr Trump briefly addressed journalists before flying to Lynchburg, Virginia, where he delivered a commencement speech at Liberty University.
At the same time, Justice Department officials began interviews on Saturday for candidates to replace Mr James B. Comey, whom Mr Trump fired last Tuesday.
Seven contenders were interviewed, including Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas; acting FBI director Andrew McCabe; Ms Alice Fisher, a white-collar defence lawyer who previously led the Justice Department's criminal division; Mr Michael Garcia, a judge on the New York State Court of Appeals who previously served as the US attorney for the Southern District of New York; Mr Adam Lee, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Richmond field office; US District Judge Henry Hudson, who presides over the Eastern District of Virginia; and Ms Frances Townsend, a former Bush Homeland Security adviser.
They've been vetted over their lifetime, essentially, but very well known, highly respected, really talented people. And that's what we want for the FBI.
U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, on the contenders for the FBI director post after he fired Mr James Comey last Tuesday.
Another rumoured candidate, former House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers, picked up the endorsement last Saturday of the FBI Agents Association, the union representing active and retired agents. Mr Rogers, a Republican, is also a former FBI special agent.
In a statement, association president Thomas O'Connor said Mr Rogers' background "sets him apart as someone capable of confronting the wide array of challenges facing our (country to) help ensure that the bureau remains the world's premier law enforcement agency".
The union also backed Mr Rogers in 2013, the last time the FBI director position was open.
Ms Fisher, who would be the first woman to lead the FBI if selected, was the first of the candidates to be interviewed, arriving at the Justice Department just before 8am. She declined to comment.
Mr Lee arrived at the Justice Department just before 1pm. He had been under consideration to take over the bureau on an interim basis, but an official said he is now interviewing for the permanent job.
Later Mr McCabe arrived, followed by Mr Cornyn and Mr Garcia, who had concluded their interviews, and then Mr Hudson.
Mr Cornyn is the second-ranking Senate Republican and a strong defender of Mr Trump, a president who often places a premium on loyalty.
The New York Times reported last Thursday that Mr Trump asked Mr Comey to pledge his loyalty to the President and that Mr Comey refused. The White House disputed that account.
Mr Trump told reporters that "we could make a fast decision" because "almost all of them are very well known".
"They've been vetted over their lifetime, essentially, but very well known, highly respected, really talented people," the President said. "And that's what we want for the FBI."
Mr Trump's pick will have to be confirmed by the Senate.
FBI directors serve 10-year terms but can be removed at any time by the president, as Mr Comey was last week.