A top Republican senator is pitching an out-of-the-box idea to replace James Comey — and top White House officials are into it

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Merrick Garland.
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Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Republican Sen. Mike Lee garnered attention Thursday after tweeting that President Donald Trump should appoint none other than Judge Merrick Garland – President Barack Obama’s choice to fill a vacant Supreme Court seat last year – to replace James Comey as FBI director.

Lee, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who is one of the chamber’s most conservative members, pitched the idea to White House officials Wednesday following a previously scheduled meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to discuss tax reform, his communications director told Business Insider.

“Some of whom like the idea and others of whom did not,” said Conn Carroll, Lee’s communications director, adding that Lee did not directly pitch the idea to Trump.

The idea caught wind early Thursday after Lee’s tweet. Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, with whom Carroll said Lee discussed the proposition, tweeted that it was a “great idea.”

“Former prosecutor Merrick Garland for FBI Director is great idea,” she wrote. She said, however, that there needed to be a “special prosecutor too” to look into any potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government officials, an investigation the FBI has had underway since late July.

She later tweeted, however, that “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,” Klobuchar wrote.

Fox Business reporter Charlie Gasparino reported that Vice President Mike Pence was a fan of the idea.

The idea was met with some contempt on the left. If Garland were appointed to lead the FBI, Trump would be able to increase the number of conservatives on the DC Circuit bench where Garland currently sits.

Carroll described some of Lee’s thinking behind the idea while speaking with Business Insider.

“Before he was a judge, Garland was a longtime federal prosecutor, including overseeing the Unabomber and Oklahoma City bombing investigations and prosecutions, and obviously he’s well respected on both sides of the aisle,” he said, making note of Garland’s tenure as deputy assistant attorney general in the DOJ’s criminal division during President Bill Clinton’s administration. “So we would be able to restore trust to the FBI, which I think everyone acknowledges had some problems while Comey’s been director. So that was the thinking there.”

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Mike Lee.
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REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

Carroll said the role of the Senate “is not to demand a special prosecutor” but to “advise and consent on who” will replace Comey.

“And Sen. Lee is doing that job,” he said.

When Garland was nominated in March 2016 to fill Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacancy on the Supreme Court, Republican tactics prevented him from receiving a confirmation hearing or vote. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used the vacant Supreme Court seat as a campaign issue for the fall, saying the next president should fill the vacancy.

It worked, and Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy shortly after his inauguration. Democrats attempted similar obstructionist tactics, but without a Senate majority they were unable to stop Gorsuch’s confirmation.