Obama to Nominate James Comey for FBI Director

Civil liberties groups say Comey approved waterboarding tactics.

(Susan Walsh/AP, File)

So far lawmakers have not thrown up any red flags over Comey's nomination.

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Hoping for bipartisan support for his pick to lead the FBI, President Barack Obama is expected to name James Comey to be the bureau's top G-man Friday, a former Bush administration official who stood against some of the more controversial anti-terror policies implemented at the time.

Comey famously testified before a Senate panel in 2007, describing how Bush administration officials, including then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andy Card visited Attorney General John Ashcroft in the hospital after Comey, then the deputy attorney general refused to sign off on a warrantless wiretapping program. Ashcroft, who also opposed the program, backed Comey's decision. Comey also reportedly tried to curb some of the interrogation tactics authorized by Gonzales during his tenure as attorney general.

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Comey would replace Robert Mueller, who has served as FBI director since just before the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Despite his reputation, some civil liberties groups have expressed concern about Comey's alleged support for enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding.

"Before the president decides whether to nominate Comey and before senators decide to confirm him to a 10-year term, they should all spend an hour or two reading these three torture memos that show Comey's two thumbs-up on waterboarding," wrote Chris Anders, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union in a blog post on the group's website.

So far lawmakers have not thrown up any red flags over Comey's nomination, with Senate Judiciary Chairman, Sen. Pat Leahy, D-VT, praising Comey's independence .

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"Mr. Comey showed the kind of independence needed to lead the FBI when he stood up to those in the last administration who sought to violate the rule of law," he said in a release. "I hope that Senators will provide Mr. Comey with the swift and respectful confirmation he deserves."

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the panel's top Republican, said Comey's "experience on national security issues will be a benefit as the FBI continues to focus on preventing terrorism."

It's not clear just how quickly Comey, who faces Senate approval, can take over for Mueller, whose last day is scheduled for Sept. 4.

"There's a lot else going on and they are out all of August and out a week in July, so I don't know how this will go; it's difficult to see where the hearing will come," says Carl Tobias, professor at the University of Richmond's School of Law. "I think a lot will depend on Grassley and whether he's amenable and wants to move on this. I think he said he deserves close scrutiny but there are not any red flags on him."

Lawmakers are currently embroiled in debates over immigration and agricultural policy and also have to schedule votes on several other new Obama cabinet nominees, some of whom may not win approval.

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