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Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers on short list to lead FBI

May 12, 2017 Updated: May 13, 2017 at 12:47 pm
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Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers June 6, 2015. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers was thrust into the national spotlight Friday when Fox News reported that he was on President Donald Trump's short list to replace fired FBI Director James Comey.

Suthers, who is two years into his first term leading his childhood hometown, was recommended by Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. Within hours, support from Republican colleagues lined up for the past prosecutor, state prisons chief and attorney general.

"John Suthers is universally recognized as a man of integrity and fair-mindedness, who can do a very difficult job taking over the helm of the agency that needs an independent leader, that needs somebody who is going to be thorough, and needs somebody who is going to complete investigations on Russia," Gardner told Colorado Politics.

He made his pitch for Suthers to Vice President Mike Pence two days ago - punctuating it with a challenge.

"Pick up a phone and call any Democrat governor and just see what they say,'" said Gardner, recalling the conversation.

Count Colorado's Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, among his supporters.

"I'd hate to lose John for Colorado, but that being said, he has the highest integrity and would be an excellent choice for the head of the FBI," Hickenlooper said in a statement.

While Fox News reported his name was on a list of 11 potential candidates, Suthers, according to the Washington Post, is not among four candidates being interviewed Saturday for the job: Acting FBI director Andrew McCabe; John Cornyn, a Republican senator representing Texas; Alice Fisher, a white-collar defense lawyer who previously led the department's criminal division; and Michael J. Garcia, a judge on the New York State Court of Appeals.

Politico named New Hampshire's former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, as a potential top candidate and Bloomberg News reported Mike Rogers, a former Michigan congressman, is also being considered.

Suthers, 65, sought to avoid the media frenzy - issuing a statement early Friday afternoon through a city spokeswoman about his possible 10-year appointment to lead the FBI.

"While I am honored to be listed as a possibility among some tremendous law enforcement professionals, at this point it would be premature to comment any further," the statement said.

Along with Gardner, other Colorado GOP politicians promoted his appointment.

Former Gov. Bill Owens hailed Suthers' candidacy - calling the mayor "perfect" for the post and adding he would be "an exceptional director of the FBI."

"John Suthers is nonpolitical when it comes to carrying out the laws of the United States and doing what is right," Owens said. "He'd always do the right thing - by the book and enforce the law."

When Colorado's attorney general's spot opened up in 2005, Owens said he moved quickly to appoint Suthers, then U.S. attorney for Colorado.

The two had worked together for years, dating back to Owens' tenure as a state legislator. Back then, Owens considered Suthers a mentor on criminal justice issues.

Suthers went on to hold the attorney general's post for 10 years. On Friday, his successor, Cynthia Coffman, called him "the man for this job."

"He is a true tough guy in the time-honored tradition of our country's most respected domestic intelligence officials," Coffman said in a statement. "Mr. Suthers will restore public confidence in the FBI by approaching every individual and situation with equanimity and impartiality."

Support wasn't universal, however.

Ian Silverii, director of the state's largest liberal advocacy group, ProgressNow Colorado, said there were things he liked about Suthers, including his "competent" work as mayor.

But that matters little for the job he may receive.

"Either way, I don't see how any of this qualifies him to be the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation," Silverii said.

If appointed to lead the FBI, Suthers would be walking into a political buzz saw in the wake of Comey's firing this week. The agency was investigating the Trump campaign's ties to Russia during the 2016 election, and Comey had recently sought to ramp up that inquiry shortly before his dismissal, according to the New York Times.

Silverii questioned whether that turmoil would make some candidates reluctant to take the job.

Owens said Suthers - who did not endorse anyone in November - could handle that assignment admirably.

"You can't pressure John Suthers - he is bound by a simple principle of doing what is right, and enforcing the law," Owens said.

Suthers' tenure as Colorado attorney general earned him a reputation for following the law, even when he disagreed with the state's position.

For example, though he was outspoken about his opposition to legalized marijuana, he defended Colorado in lawsuits from other states that sought to strike down Colorado's pot laws. He also encouraged Colorado voters to approve taxes for recreational marijuana.

Despite the crowded field, one of Suthers' former colleagues stopped short of calling the mayor a long shot for the job.

"I find him to have very high integrity, great experience as AG and also in corrections," said Paul Teske, dean and distinguished professor at the University of Colorado Denver's School of Public Affairs. He said he has known Suthers since he taught classes at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, when Teske was dean of the campus branch.

Whether Suthers would even take the job remains unclear, Teske said.

"When he ran for Colorado Springs mayor, he talked about that as his dream job," Teske said. "And he seems to enjoy it and be very good at it."

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Colorado Politics reporters Joey Bunch and Peter Marcus contributed to this report.

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