Attorney general remains key spot to fill in Biden Cabinet, with Doug Jones seen as a leading contender
Posted December 9, 2020 9:27 a.m. EST
CNN — As President-elect Joe Biden formally introduces his defense secretary nominee Wednesday, the role of attorney general remains the biggest outstanding position in the Cabinet yet to be named.
Three leading contenders for the post are Sen. Doug Jones, Judge Merrick Garland and Sally Yates, people familiar with the matter say, after Jeh Johnson informed allies late Tuesday he would not be serving in the Biden administration.
Jones, the Alabama senator who lost his race in November, is seen as the leading candidate to run the Department of Justice, people close to the matter say, particularly given his long-standing friendship with Biden and his strong civil rights record. He also fits a pattern developing among several key Cabinet nominees: Biden is turning to people with whom he has strong relationships, are seen as competent and could face an easier road to confirmation.
"All signs point to Doug Jones," a person close to the Biden transition tells CNN, but noted that Biden had not informed candidates of his final decision.
Garland, whose nomination to the Supreme Court was blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the final year of the Obama administration, has also been under consideration for weeks. Some people close to the process say his candidacy has become more serious over the last week and he remains an option. Yet his nomination also faces more challenges than Jones, including a more complicated confirmation battle, the vacancy it would create on the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit and questions from civil rights groups.
Yates, a former deputy attorney general, would also likely face a more difficult confirmation than Jones. As a 30-year career official at Justice, it's also an open question whether she is best suited to lead the department in the post-Trump era. During her time as deputy attorney general, she stood by while then-FBI Director James Comey, who reported directly to her, repeatedly violated Justice Department policy in handling the Hillary Clinton email probe.
CNN has previously reported that Lisa Monaco, a former Homeland Security adviser in the Obama White House who worked closely with Biden on his vice presidential search, is also under consideration for the attorney general post. Deval Patrick, the former Massachusetts governor and former civil rights chief at the Justice Department, was also being considered.
A Biden transition official said a decision had not yet been made and a formal announcement is not expected this week.
Johnson, who had been under consideration for several potential positions, is no longer in the running for a Cabinet post, people familiar with the matter say.
Johnson had been in strong contention for secretary of defense and was one of several candidates being eyed for attorney general. He preferred Pentagon over any other position and when retired Army General Lloyd Austin was picked for that position, Johnson made clear he would not be joining Biden's team.
Johnson served as Homeland Security secretary in the Obama administration, but an ally said he did not have a particularly strong relationship with Biden.