A new logo for the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection graces the wall at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. Acting Director Mick Mulvaney has embraced the formal name of the agency, rather than “Consumer Financial Protection Bureau,” or CFPB. Credit: C. Ryan Barber / National Law Journal

Updated at 4:22 p.m.

Todd Zywicki, a law professor at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia School of Law, has emerged as a top candidate for the nomination to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, according to two sources familiar with the Trump administration’s search.

A prominent figure in conservative legal circles, Zywicki has been among the most outspoken critics of the CFPB, which he described in 2013 as “one of the most powerful and publicly unaccountable agencies in American history.” He has also bashed agency regulations, including a rule—eventually overturned by congressional Republicans—to make it easier for consumers to file class actions against big banks.

Zywicki’s name had been floated widely in recent months as a possible pick to lead the CFPB. But he only recently gained traction as a contender after the Trump administration decided to consider additional candidates and interviewed him, the sources said.

A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on the nominee search, and Zywicki did not respond to requests for comment.

Other contenders, including Mark McWatters, chairman of the National Credit Union Administration, and U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, have also been identified in recent media reports as being under consideration by the White House. Sources told ALM affiliate Credit Union Times that McWatters is out of the running for CFPB director.

A nomination announcement from the White House is expected next week.

The Trump administration is nearing a crucial deadline with the CFPB nomination. Mick Mulvaney was selected in November as the CFPB’s interim director under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. That law only permitted Mulvaney to lead the CFPB for a 210-day period that ends June 22.

Mulvaney will be allowed to stay on as interim director if there is a named nominee awaiting Senate confirmation. Mulvaney has said he expects to remain the CFPB’s interim director through the fall and possibly even the end of 2018.

Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, Mulvaney said he expects the Trump administration to announce its nominee “mid to late next week.” Asked whether the administration had made a choice, Mulvaney said, “I know that the president was going to meet with a finalist, but I do not know who it was or how it went.” The meeting was held last week, he said.

Mulvaney said he has “affirmatively stayed out of the process of identifying potential replacements, mostly because I wanted them to be able to sort of stand on their own when it comes to the confirmation.”

“They’re going to have enough difficulty defending themselves, let alone trying to defend me,” he said. “So I’ve tried to stay out of the process and have stayed out of the process.”

Before congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump last year stopped the consumer bureau’s push to restrict mandatory arbitration in the financial arena, Zywicki co-wrote a paper poking holes in the CFPB study underpinning the regulation and joined the chorus of critics who predicted that the rule would prove a boon to plaintiffs lawyers but not consumers.

In his writings and public remarks about the CFPB, Zywicki has balanced sharp criticism with an appreciation of the bureau’s mission. In a February op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Zywicki said the CFPB “pummeled American consumers and the economy” under the tenure of the agency’s first director, Richard Cordray. Still, Zywicki wrote, “despite its rocky start, the original promise of the CFPB is sound.”

Cordray resigned in November to run in Ohio’s gubernatorial election and has since won the Democratic nomination. The CFPB director serves a five-year term.

Zywicki’s nomination would set the stage for a tense confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee and a prominent member, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, the architect of the CFPB. Zywicki would be able to point to federal government experience and consumer protection credentials. In 2003, he succeeded now-Sen. Ted Cruz as director of policy planning at the Federal Trade Commission. Zywicki left the FTC in 2004.

Zywicki’s nomination would deepen the Trump administration’s ties to George Mason’s law school. Last year, Trump picked Neomi Rao, at the time an associate law professor there, to lead the powerful Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Rao and her agency play a key role carrying out the administration’s deregulatory agenda.

Update: This report was updated to note developments on the candidacy of J. Mark McWatters.

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