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How Is James Comey's Dismissal Being Perceived Around The World?


OK. So many outstanding questions about where this Trump-Russia-Comey-Flynn controversy may go next. To take some of them on, we asked Michael Leiter to drop by the studio. He's a former assistant U.S. attorney at the Justice Department. He went on to run the National Counterterrorism Center, and he's here now. Welcome.

MICHAEL LEITER, BYLINE: Wonderful be here.

KELLY: If I forced you to name one takeaway from what has been a wild week, what would it be?

LEITER: Mary Louise, it's hard to come up with one because there are so many. But, ultimately...

KELLY: And it would be overtaken by the next news cycle...

LEITER: It is true.

KELLY: ...Before you finish the sentence, but carry on.

LEITER: I think ultimately it is that in the FBI director who leads federal law enforcement, we've always looked for a degree of independence. And I don't think that independence is completely gone, but it's being threatened now. And because of that, the selection of the next director and how Congress proceeds and how the Department of Justice proceeds is an absolutely critical juncture.

KELLY: Well, speaking of the selection of the next director, the Associated Press is reporting six people were slated for interviews today to be the next head of the FBI. President Trump said today he wants to make a fast decision, maybe get this done before he leaves town for a trip abroad next week. How - I mean, how tough a job does whoever gets this post - how tough a job do they face? I mean, would you want to be FBI director at this point?

LEITER: I'm quite happy on the outside of the federal government right now.

KELLY: (Laughter) That makes two of us.

LEITER: But I - the job has always been tough. It has enormous law enforcement responsibilities, it has the intelligence responsibilities, everything from counterterrorism to organized crime. And one of the things that made the job a little bit easier was this 10-year term, this idea of independence it might cross regardless of what political party was in the White House.

KELLY: That a FBI director would have to straddle two presidents - that's right.

LEITER: That's right. And that both made it hard, but it also made it easier because it provided this opportunity to be independent. So in honesty, I would be less concerned, were I the president, to move quickly and more concerned with finding the right person, the person who can embody that independence, that neutrality that we demand in the FBI. I think that's the most important piece. But this will be a brutally hard job for anyone under any circumstances, and these are the toughest maybe since we've seen since Bob Mueller took over immediately before 9/11.

KELLY: To what extent does it complicate what you just said is a tough job in the best of circumstances - to what extent does it complicate the situation that they will be reporting to an Attorney General Jeff Sessions who's had a role in this, who had to recuse himself from the Russia investigation and who is now conducting the interviews for the next FBI director who will be running the Russia investigation?

LEITER: I think that's a challenge. On the other hand, there might be something good about knowing going into this that the attorney general wants you to be there, and hopefully the president will support that view. Now, you can't sacrifice your independence in that circumstance, but to have their support is a good thing. The question again is can they operate independent of those political winds? And there's a long history of FBI directors telling the Department of Justice, no, I've got this, stand back. And I hope the next FBI director does that again.

And I also don't think we yet know whether there will be a special counsel who will supervise this for this FBI director. I still think that politically it may be difficult for the deputy attorney general to resist calls for a more independent counsel.

KELLY: Last thing to ask you which is what impact might this week's events - the firing of Jim Comey have on U.S. allies, the partnerships that the FBI has to have with its sister organizations around the world?

LEITER: In the same way that I'm convinced that the Russian investigation will go on here, the working level relationships overseas will also continue, but at a higher level. Jim Comey was widely respected overseas by our partners, and I think our intelligence partners around the world look at this and wonder does the U.S. intelligence community have the independence it needs to be a good partner or will it become politicized? And the president's tweets over the past six months have made, I think, those concerns more and more real.

KELLY: That's Michael Leiter, former chief of the National Counterterrorism Center and a former prosecutor for the Justice Department. Mike Leiter, thank you.

LEITER: Thank you, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.