The issue: Republican raised the right red flags during Bush administration
James Comey, 52, is the probable nominee to be the next FBI director. Whether part of a deliberate strategy or not, he would be the second Republican — after former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel at the Defense Department — picked for a highly visible and important job in the current Obama administration.
COMEY WOULD BRING a wide range of legal and law-enforcement experience to the job, which carries a 10-year term limit. Now teaching national-security law at Columbia University law school, he ran a hedge fund and served as senior vice president and general counsel for defense contractor Lockheed Martin and earlier spent years in government service.
The sole quibble about his nomination was raised by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican, who has questions about the Obama administration’s “abysmal” investigations of Wall Street for its role in the economic downturn.
It should be a fascinating line of questioning because Comey was never part of the Obama administration. He did serve the George W. Bush administration’s Justice Department for almost five years, including two as the No. 2 official.
Comey entered government service in 1985, right out of the University of Chicago law school. He went to work for that great prosecutorial proving ground, the Southern District of New York, where he prosecuted terrorism, white-collar crime, organized-crime and drug cases.
In Richmond, Va., he took over the investigation of the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia that had dragged on for five years. In short order, he indicted 14 suspects.
BARRING SOME unforeseen disclosure, Comey deserves to be confirmed as FBI director — if only for his role in thwarting an ill-thought-out and likely illegal warrantless domestic eavesdropping program cooked up in the Bush White House.
The plan needed Attorney General John Ashcroft’s signature, which the White House surreptitiously tried to obtain when Ashcroft was hospitalized after gall bladder surgery. Comey, his deputy, arrived with FBI Director Robert Mueller III at the hospital in time to prevent Bush chief of staff Andy Card and chief counsel Alberto Gonzales from browbeating the ailing Ashcroft into signing off on these greatly expanded wiretapping powers.
The standoff ended with the senior Bush aides returning to the White House empty-handed. Mueller posted FBI guards at the hospital.
Comey also spoke out forcefully against the administration’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which he correctly predicted would damage the country’s reputation when they became public.
AT THE FBI, where Mueller must retire by Sept. 4, Comey would face a desk crowded with problems, including: the subpoenaing of news organizations’ phone records and emails; whether the Internal Revenue Service was politically selective in its handling of conservative groups’ tax-exemption applications; and whether the FBI dropped the ball on a Russian heads-up about one of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers.
All indications are that Comey is the man for the job.