WASHINGTON — Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray abruptly announced Friday that he would step down by the end of the day — nearly a week earlier than initially planned — and appointed a new deputy director to serve as his successor.

Leandra English, who until Friday served as the agency's chief of staff, was promoted to deputy director, effectively immediately. In that role, she will serve as head of the CFPB once Cordray has left the agency.

“In considering how to ensure an orderly succession for this independent agency, I determined that it would be best to avoid leaving this key position filled only in an acting capacity,” Cordray said in an email to CFPB staff.

CFPB Director Richard Cordray
Richard Cordray announced he will step down as CFPB director late Friday, setting up a potential legal battle about his successor. Bloomberg News

English will replace David Silberman, associate director of the research, markets and regulations division, who has been serving as the acting deputy director.

While Cordray's departure is not a surprise, the timing of it caught the financial services industry off guard. Cordray announced last week he intended to step down at the end of November. He is widely expected to run for governor of Ohio.

What happens next is unclear. The Trump administration is expected to attempt to name a new interim head of the bureau. Under the Federal Vacancies Act, the administration must chose someone who has already been confirmed by the Senate. It is widely expected that President Trump will choose Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to take the CFPB job temporarily.

Yet it's not entirely clear that Trump has the power to appoint an interim director. Under the Dodd-Frank Act, which created the CFPB, the law specifically says the job of director falls to the deputy director of the CFPB until a successor is nominated and confirmed by the Senate. Many lawyers say that Dodd-Frank, as a more recent and specific statute, takes precedence. They have been quietly arguing for weeks that a legal battle may be in the offing if Trump tries to appoint an interim successor, but the CFPB does not recognize the appointment as valid.

Some sources suggested the Trump administration could make its own move as early as Friday evening.

In the meantime, consumer groups heralded Cordray for tapping English to lead the bureau.

“Leandra English will be a steady hand during this time of transition. As one of the first employees of the agency serving in a range of executive roles, she is uniquely prepared to ensure that the agency’s work on behalf of consumers goes uninterrupted,” said Rachel Weintraub, legislative director and general counsel at the Consumer Federation of America.