May 30, 2013

Obama considers Republican FBI head

The former Justice Department official is seen as unmoved by political pressures.

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON - President Obama plans to nominate James Comey, a former senior Justice Department official in the George W. Bush administration, to replace Robert S. Mueller III as FBI director, according to two people with knowledge of the selection process.

James Comey
click image to enlarge

James Comey gestures during a June 2004 news conference in Washington. According to people familiar with the decision process, it looks likely that, in a bipartisan move, President Obama will nominate Comey to lead the FBI.

The Associated Press

Comey, 52, was at the center of some of the most bruising debates over counterterrorism during the Bush administration and established a reputation as a fierce defender of the law and the integrity of the Justice Department regardless of the political pressures of the moment.

The expected nomination of Comey, a Republican, was seen in some quarters as a bipartisan move by a president besieged by Republicans in Congress. But Chuck Hagel's prior service as a Republican senator from Nebraska did not spare him from a bruising nomination battle for secretary of defense.

Mueller has served 12 years as FBI director, a period of enormous transformation of the bureau in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The director's term is limited by law to 10 years, but Congress unanimously approved Obama's request that Mueller be granted another two years in 2011.

Comey was famously involved in a 2004 hospital room confrontation with White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and the president's chief of staff, Andrew Card Jr. The two White House officials were attempting to persuade Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was recovering from emergency surgery to remove his gallbladder, to reauthorize a controversial domestic warrantless eavesdropping program.

Comey, who was acting attorney general in Ashcroft's absence, had refused to agree to extend the program. When he learned that the White House was attempting to go around him and get the ill Ashcroft to sign off on an extension, Comey rushed to George Washington University Medical Center, arriving just before Gonzales and Card.

Comey explained to Ashcroft what was happening and, when the White House officials arrived, the attorney general raised himself up and said he never should have authorized the program. He gestured at Comey and said, "There is the attorney general," according to an account by former Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman.

The White House had narrowed the search in recent days to Comey and Lisa Monaco, a former assistant attorney general for national security who became Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser this year. One law enforcement source said that a few weeks ago, the Justice Department sent both names to the White House.

Monaco would have been the first woman to lead the FBI, but Comey comes with extensive law enforcement experience. He served as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan and he was the managing assistant U.S. attorney in charge of the Richmond division of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. While in Richmond, Va., he earned praise for reducing the homicide rate by shifting gun prosecutions from state court to federal court, where the sentences were tougher. From 2003 though 2005, he served as deputy attorney general, responsible for overseeing the operations of the Justice Department.

"Jim is one of the great leaders of the Justice Department," said Jamie Gorelick, who served as a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. "He has worked very closely with the bureau. He knows its strengths and will be great at enhancing its capabilities."

The officials who said that Comey was selected spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss a pending decision. They did not say how soon Obama would make the official announcement. News of Comey's appointment was first reported by NPR.

A White House spokesman would not confirm the appointment Wednesday night, saying he had no personnel announcements to make.

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