U.S. President Donald Trump is considering more than a dozen candidates to succeed ousted FBI director James Comey, including lawmakers, lawyers and law enforcement officials, and hinted Saturday the decision could be made by late next week.
Trump said "we can make a fast decision" on a new FBI head, before he leaves on his first foreign trip since taking office.
"Even that is possible," he told reporters when asked whether he could announce his nominee by Friday, when he is scheduled to leave for the Mideast and Europe.
The president spoke ahead of taking a flight to Lynchburg, Va., to give the commencement address at Liberty University.
White House officials have said the president was moving expeditiously to find an interim FBI director along with a permanent replacement for Comey, who was fired Tuesday.
At least six candidates had interviews scheduled for Saturday with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, at Justice Department headquarters:
The list also includes South Carolina Representative Trey Gowdy, former Michigan representative Mike Rogers and former New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly, according to two White House officials briefed on the matter and who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning.
The first candidate to arrive was Fisher, a high-ranking Justice Department official in the George W. Bush administration. She left after about an hour and a half inside the building and declined to comment to reporters.
Trump lashed out at Comey on Friday, tweeting that Comey "better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"
Trump's chief spokesperson refused to comment Friday on whether active listening devices are in the Oval Office or elsewhere in the building, a non-denial that drew comparisons to the secretly taped conversations and telephone calls that led to Richard Nixon's downfall in the Watergate scandal in the 1970s.
Trump had earlier criticized Comey as a "showboat" and a "grandstander," and the president's warning prompted new accusations of interference with the FBI's Russia investigation.
In his weekly address to the nation, Trump said he was "delighted to be participating first hand in the excitement" as students and faculty celebrate Liberty's more than 18,000 graduates. The commander in chief typically addresses graduates of one of the U.S. military service academies and Trump is scheduled to speak at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut on Wednesday.
Trump didn't mention the fallout over Comey's firing in his remarks to graduates of Liberty University, a Christian school whose leader was one of Trump's earliest and most outspoken supporters during the campaign.
Drawing parallels to what was widely viewed as his long-shot bid for the presidency, he urged the more than 18,000 graduates to fight for what they believe in and to "challenge entrenched interests and failed power structures." A crowd of more than double that size filled an outdoor stadium on campus to welcome just the second sitting president to address the university's commencement.
"Remember this: Nothing worth doing ever, ever, ever came easy," Trump said. "Following your convictions means you must be willing to face criticism from those who lack the same courage to do what is right, and they know what is right, but they don't have the courage or the guts or the stamina to take it and to do it."
"The future belongs to the dreamers, not the critics."
Trump told graduates to "treat the word 'impossible' as nothing more than motivation" and to embrace being called an "outsider" because "It's the outsiders who change the world."
"The more that a broken system tells you that you're wrong, the more certain you must be that you must keep pushing ahead," added Trump, who often complains about being underestimated during the presidential campaign.
Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty's president, helped Trump win an overwhelming 80 per cent of the white evangelical vote.
Falwell was mentioned several times during Trump's speech and presented him an honorary doctorate.
A recent Pew Research Centre survey marking Trump's first 100 days in office, a milestone reached on April 29, found three-quarters of white evangelicals approved of his performance as president while just 39 per cent of the general public held the same view.
Christian conservatives have been overjoyed by Trump's appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, along with Trump's choice of socially conservative Cabinet members and other officials, such as Charmaine Yoest, a prominent anti-abortion activist named to the Department of Health and Human Services.
But they had a mixed response to an executive order on religious liberty that Trump signed last week. He directed the IRS to ease up on enforcing an already rarely enforced limit on partisan political activity by churches. He also promised "regulatory relief" for those who object on religious grounds to the birth control coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act health law. Yet, the order did not address one of the most pressing demands from religious conservatives: broad exemptions from recognizing same-sex marriage.
Still, Falwell, who endorsed Trump in January 2016 just before that year's Iowa caucuses, praised Trump's actions on issues that concern Christian conservatives.
"I really don't think any other president has done more for evangelicals and the faith community in four months than President Trump has," Falwell told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Falwell became a key surrogate and validator for the thrice-married Trump during the campaign, frequently travelling with Trump on the candidate's plane and appearing at events. Falwell often compared Trump to his late father, the conservative televangelist Jerry Falwell, and argued that, while Trump wasn't the most religious candidate in the race, he was the man the country needed.