Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers was thrust into the national spotlight Friday when Fox News reported that he made President Donald Trump’s short list to lead the FBI days after its former chief was fired.
Suthers, who is two years into his first term leading his childhood home, was recommended to the post by Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. Within hours, support from past and present Republican colleagues lined up for the one-time prosecutor, 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.
Colorado’s Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, added his endorsement.
While Fox News reported his name was on a list of 11 potential candidates, the chances of an actual appointment were debatable Friday afternoon.
The New York Times did not list Suthers in its list of seven potential candidates. Politico named Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., as a potential top candidate and Bloomberg News reported Mike Rogers, a former Michigan congressman, as also being considered.
Suthers sought to avoid the media frenzy, issuing a statement early Friday afternoon through a city spokeswoman.
“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 pulled for 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 non-political 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 the longtime El Paso County prosecutor and corrections chief.
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 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. He lauded Suthers’ work in rallying Colorado Springs voters to green-light more transportation funding despite opposition from the conservative group Americans for Prosperity. Then he needled Suthers’ stances as attorney general on the Affordable Care Act and the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.
But that matters little for the job he may receive. Silverii said he doesn’t see a qualified FBI director in him.
“Either way, I don’t see how any of this qualifies him to be the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
If appointed to lead the FBI, Suthers would be walking into a political buzz saw in the wake of former FBI director James Comey’s firing earlier 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.
“I don’t know why anyone except for a complete and total Trump stooge would take that job, because it’s clear that all Trump wants is someone who is going to cease the Russia investigation,” Silverii said. “Anyone who does that will lose any reputation they’ve built up over however many years immediately.”
Former Gov. Owens said Suthers 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’ 10 years as Colorado attorney general earned him a reputation for following the law, even when he personally 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 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.”
Editor’s note: This story was written by Jakob Rodgers of the Colorado Springs Gazette, with additional reporting from Colorado Politics’ Joey Bunch, Peter Marcus and Erin Prater.