“I think there’s plenty of people that he wouldn’t have to take a chance on her,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who will chair the Judiciary Committee if Republicans keep control of the Senate. He added that Yates’s ties to the FBI’s 2016 Russia investigation were “very worrisome.”
Asked if he thought a GOP-controlled Senate would confirm Yates to be attorney general, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a member of the panel, replied bluntly, “No.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who currently chairs the committee, said he could give a “thumbs-up” to either ousted Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) or Circuit Judge Merrick Garland, whose 2016 Supreme Court nomination Republicans stonewalled.
But asked about Yates as attorney general, he replied, “I don’t think so.”
Though Biden has named several top Cabinet picks since he was projected the winner just over a month ago, he hasn’t yet tapped who he will name attorney general.
The Washington Post reported on Friday that Yates and Jones were considered the top candidates to lead Biden’s Justice Department.
Supporters of Yates argue that she’s deeply qualified to run the DOJ. She was previously the No. 2 in the Justice Department during the Obama administration and was a U.S. attorney before that. She briefly served as acting attorney general under Trump before being fired for refusing to defend the president’s travel ban.
But Yates would face a bruising confirmation fight because of her ties to the FBI’s probe into Russia’s election interference and the Trump campaign.
Yates testified on the issue before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year in a testy hearing where Republican senators frequently interrupted her. Yates has distanced herself from some of the decisions made by former FBI Director James Comey.
Though Yates signed both the initial warrant application on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page and the first renewal, she told the committee that had she known there were inaccuracies in the applications, she would not have signed them.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz found seven significant errors and omissions in the initial application and a total of 17 among the four warrant applications linked to Page.
But Republicans would be all but guaranteed to raise the issue again if Yates is nominated to be attorney general.
“Terrible idea,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a member of the committee and a potential 2024 contender, when asked about Yates as attorney general.
Asked if he thought a GOP-controlled Senate would confirm Yates, he added “I would hope they wouldn’t.”
Which party will control the chamber is in limbo until next month’s two January 5 runoff election races in Georgia.
If Democrats are able to win both seats they could force a 50-50 tie in the Senate, which would hand them the majority because Vice President-elect Kamala Harris could break a tie once she assumes office on January 20.
That means Democrat could confirm whomever Biden nominates without GOP support as long as every Democratic senator supports the confirmation.
If Republicans control the Senate, they will effectively be able to stonewall any nominee they oppose.
Jones is widely viewed as the easiest pick to get through a GOP-controlled Senate.
Asked about Jones, Cornyn added that the outgoing senator had “friends on both sides” of the aisle.
“I think people would be open to that,” he said. “He’s a very pleasant guy.”