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Who Is Michael J. Garcia? A Latino Judge Is in the Running for FBI Director

Image: Michael Garcia
Photo of former U.S. Attorney Michael J. Garcia on May 13, 2017. He's one of around a dozen candidates being considered to succeed FBI Director James Comey. Jose Luis Magana / AP

A Latino judge is in the running to take over the Federal Bureau of Investigations, in the wake of President Trump’s controversial dismissal of James Comey last week. Judge Michael J. Garcia of New York was among four candidates who interviewed with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod. J. Rosenstein on Saturday. If nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, Garcia could become the first Latino in history to lead the FBI.

Garcia currently serves as an associate judge on the New York State Court of Appeals. He is best known for his role in exposing corruption. As U.S. Attorney, he oversaw an investigation into a prostitution ring that led to the resignation of then-New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. Garcia was later tapped to lead an inquiry into alleged corruption surrounding the bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Garcia’s report helped lead to a criminal investigation of FIFA by the U.S. and Switzerland.

Garcia’s bio states that he lives in Westchester County, New York, with his wife and three children.

According to multiple press reports, Garcia was interviewed along with Andrew G. McCabe, acting director of the FBI; Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Alice Fisher, a former Department of Justice official who could be the first woman to run the agency.

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While there are other names said to be in consideration for the FBI job, Trump has stated that he wants to the selection of a new director to move quickly. On May 9th, the president abruptly terminated Comey, who was leading the investigation in alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election and possible collusion by Trump campaign officials with Russia.

Pedro J. Torres-Diaz, president of the Hispanic National Bar Association, told NBC Latino that he was glad to hear that Garcia was being considered for such a high-profile position. “I think this is indeed an example of how there are well-qualified Latinos and Latinas in our legal profession that can occupy important positions in the Cabinet and at other high levels,” he said. “We will continue to encourage the administration to look at Latinos and Latinas, so that the judiciary and the executive branches of government become a truer reflection of our community.”

FBI historian: 1:16

Michael J. Garcia was born in Brooklyn in October 1961. He graduated with honors from the State University of New York at Binghamton in1983, and graduated from Albany Law School in 1989 as valedictorian.

From 1992 to 2001, he served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, where he investigated the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa.

In 2002 Garcia became Acting Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and then-President George W. Bush appointed him Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Department of Homeland Security. Garcia was the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2005 until 2008.

The Southern District of New York has been termed “a steppingstone for the law’s best and brightest.” Garcia’s predecessors in the role of U.S. Attorney include everyone from Rudy Giuliani to James Comey.

Garcia’s role in the Spitzer case could be a potential source of concern those evaluating him for the FBI position. On one hand, his investigation led to the resignation of the most powerful politician in New York State. On the other hand, Garcia decline to press any charges against Governor Spitzer.

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When Garcia stepped down as U. S. Attorney in 2008, he told the New York Times that he had no regrets about his decision not to bring charges against Spitzer. “I think at the end of the day that decision is the right decision,” Garcia said. “And it’s justice in that case. And I stand by it.”

Garcia was a partner with the law firm Kirkland & Ellis when he was approached by FIFA, the international body governing soccer, to investigate alleged corruption tied to the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Garcia submitted a 350-page report with his findings in September 2014. However, instead of making the report public, FIFA released a 42-page summary.

Garcia resigned from the ethics investigation in protest, declaring that the summary was “materially incomplete” and provided an “erroneous representation of the facts and conclusions.” Garcia’s report, in part, led to the U.S. and Swiss governments investigating FIFA – and the resignation of FIFA’s president.

Garcia is a Republican who was retained by New York’s Republican state senators in 2013, as they faced inquiries from a commission investigating public corruption.

In 2015, Garcia was named chairman of El Museo del Barrio in New York City.

People who have interacted with Garcia on community and non-profit work speak highly of his commitment, noted Hector Cordero-Guzman, professor at Baruch College at the City University of New York. “His positive reputation speaks well of his work ethic, dedication, and willingness to collaborate with others,” Cordero-Guzman said. “He is definitely a respected leader.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed Garcia to New York’s highest court in 2016.

Robert Anello, partner with Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello, said Garcia was a “solid choice” to head up the FBI. “Garcia sees himself as guided by ethics, and that certainly would seem to be a good qualification for the FBI job, depending on how much the president might want to get involved,” Anello said. “He (Garcia) checks a lot of the boxes that make him an attractive candidate, especially to this administration. He has experience fighting terrorism and in immigration enforcement, plus he has worked as a prosecutor and in the private sector.”

Anello called Garcia’s break with FIFA “instructive,” because it showed his refusal to compromise himself despite pressure from a powerful institution.

If Garcia were to become FBI director, he would be in charge of an organization not known for diversity. The FBI has been criticized for its lack of African-American and Latino agents; in 2013-2014, Hispanics accounted for seven percent of the Bureau’s special agent force. Last year, former FBI director Comey referred to the FBI’s lack of diversity as “a crisis.”

But Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal and Educational Defense Fund (MALDEF) told NBC Latino that, so far, he did not put a lot of credence in Garcia’s name being floated for FBI director.

“Certainly, this administration’s track record for the inclusion of Latinos is not good, and we don’t anticipate it getting much better,” said Saenz. If Trump were considering Garcia because of his work at ICE, Saenz said, that would give him “reason for concern – because no administration has conducted immigration enforcement as inhumanely and recklessly as this one.”

Whether or not Garcia is given the nod for FBI director, Mario H. Lopez, president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund, believes that is a good sign that that the judge is being considered. In Lopez’ view, Garcia represents a strong candidate for the FBI post. “His credentials are impeccable,” Lopez said. “His experience, his skill set, and top-notch qualifications are all there.”

Lopez noted that Garcia ­– or whoever is named to run the agency – will face a challenge in maintaining public confidence in the organization.

“The FBI is one of the last bastions of government that hasn’t become completely intertwined with politics,” he said, “and for the sake of the country, we should try to keep it that way.”

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