Frances Fragos “Fran” Townsend, President George W. Bush’s Homeland Security Adviser from 2004 to 2008, is one of the many candidates to replace fired FBI Director James Comey. If President Donald Trump picks her, Townsend would be the first woman to lead the FBI.
The 55-year-old Townsend was born in Mineola, New York and has two children with her husband, lawyer John Townsend. She currently works for CBS News as Senior National Security Analyst and as an executive vice president at MacAndrews & Forbes Incorporated.
Here’s what you need to know about Townsend.
1. Townsend Was Considered a Possible Homeland Security Secretary Pick for the Trump Cabinet
Townsend was one of the many faces to come and go from Trump Tower during the transition phase, as she was reportedly considered for the Homeland Security Secretary position. That role went to Ret. Gen. John Kelly instead.
Townsend did have the resume for the job. She joined the Bush Administration when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hired her to join the National Security Council, despite her previous work during President Bill Clinton’s Administration. By May 2004, she rose the ranks to become Bush’s Homeland Security Adviser, a role she kept until March 2008.
As The Washington Post noted in a 2005 profile of Townsend, she was dispatched to publicly defend the administration’s decision to raise the terrorist threat levels during the 2004 election season and was sent to the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq as Bush’s envoy. Rice told the Post that it was Gen. John A. Gordon, Bush’s previous Homeland Security Adviser, and former White House counterterrorism czar Richard A. Clarke recommended her for the job in the Bush administration.
“They used all the right adjectives,” Rice told the Post. “Smart, tough, persistent, which is important… Somebody who will not let anything slip past her.”
“There’s a toughness to her,” former homeland security secretary Tom Ridge told the Post of Townsend. “There’s an intensity level to get the job done.”
2. Townsend Said Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban Would be Dangerous for National Security
Townsend was critical of Trump before he was inaugurated, which makes it surprising that she’s been on the shortlist for two different jobs in the administration.
During a December 2016 appearance on CBS This Morning, Townsend said Trump’s ban on Muslims from entering the country would be dangerous for national security.
“Our greatest counter-terrorism allies are actually our Arab partners — the Saudis, the Emirates — who give us better on-the-ground intelligence about threats coming our way than any other service,” Townsend said on CBS This Morning. “The other thing is our diplomats and military get put at risk because they represent the U.S. in these Arab countries.” She told the network that it is “incredibly important” for the U.S. not to alienate Muslim allies.
Since taking office, Trump has signed two different immigration executive orders, but both have been stopped by the courts. Even in the amended executive order, citizens from Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Sudan – all Muslim-majority countries – were banned from entering the U.S. for 90 days. An indefinite ban was placed to stop Syrian refugees from entering the U.S.
Townsend told CBS This Morning in February, after a revised version of the travel ban circulated, that it wasn’t a “total ban.” She called it a “temporary ban” that will allow the administration to change vetting requirements. Townsend said that once the seven countries meet these new vetting procedures, citizens could enter the U.S. again.
3. She Was 1 of 122 Republican National Security Experts Who Signed a Letter Calling Trump ‘Utterly Unfitted to Office’
Townsend was also among the 122 Republican National Security Experts who signed an open letter in March 2016 calling Trump unfit for the presidency. The experts said that, while they have been divided on issues like the Iraq war and Syria, they were “united in our opposition to a Donald Trump Presidency.”
“He is fundamentally dishonest,” the letter reads. “Evidence of this includes his attempts to deny positions he has unquestionably taken in the past, including on the 2003 Iraq war and the 2011 Libyan conflict. We accept that views evolve over time, but this is simply misrepresentation.”
The experts argued that Trump could make America “less safe” and “diminish our standing in the world.”
“Therefore, as committed and loyal Republicans, we are unable to support a Party ticket with Mr. Trump at its head,” the letter concludes. “We commit ourselves to working energetically to prevent the election of someone so utterly unfitted to the office.”
This doesn’t bode well for Townsend’s chances at becoming FBI director. For example, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to hire Elliott Abrams as his deputy, but Trump overruled him when he found out that Abrams was critical of Trump during the election.
4. Townsend Worked in the Clinton Administration Justice Department Before Joining Bush
Although Townsend doesn’t have FBI experience, she is similar to Alice Fisher, in that they both have extensive Justice Department experience.
After she earned her J.D. from the University of San Diego, she returned to New York to begin her legal career. In 1985, she was hired as an assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn, notes the Christian Science Monitor.
Three years later, Rudy Giuliani picked her to join the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office and also worked with Louis Freeh, before he became the fifth FBI Director. The New York Times reports that she became well-known among her colleagues for her interviews with alleged mob bosses.
In the early 1990s, Townsend began working in the Justice Department in Washington D.C. During the Clinton Administration, she gained experience that could serve her well as an FBI director. She worked as the Director of the Office of International Affairs in the Criminal Division from 1995 to 1997, as her Bush White House bio notes. In March 1998, she was named Counsel for Intelligence Policy, leading the office of Intelligence Policy and Review. She also became an expert on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). That experience came in handy when she went on CBS This Morning to discuss Trump’s wiretapping claims.
Since she became a key adviser to Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno, the Bush administration initially didn’t keep her. But she stayed in government as the Assistant Commandant for Intelligence for the U.S. Coast Guard. She was on maternity leave when 9/11 happened. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, she took on the role of updating the Coast Guard operations.
5. Townsend Was Responsible for Leading an Investigation Into Bush’s Hurricane Katrina Response
In September 2005, under the pressure of Democrats, President George W. Bush agreed to open an investigation into the administrations’ highly criticized response to the devastating Hurricane Katrina. As CNN reported at the time, Townsend was picked to lead the investigation.
Townsend’s investigation resulted in a report called The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned. Her report ran 228 pages.
“Despite all we do, however, Hurricane Katrina was a deadly reminder that we can and must do better, and we will,” Townsend wrote in her letter to Bush. “This is the first and foremost lesson we learned from the death and devastation caused by our country’s most destructive natural disaster: No matter how prepared we think we are, we must work every day to improve.”