Obama FBI Pick James Comey Sails Through Confirmation Hearing

Senate panel gives former Bush admin. official warm treatment.

widemodern_comey_070913.jpg

FBI director nominee James Comey Jr. prepares for his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill July 9, 2013 in Washington.

By SHARE

President Barack Obama's pick to lead the FBI appears poised to move quickly through the nomination process, after he faced a friendly Senate hearing Tuesday.

James Comey, a former deputy Attorney General under the Bush administration, won praise from Democrats for his past stance against waterboarding and from Republicans for his extensive resume.

And while the hearing remained light and full of praise when it came to Comey's qualifications, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle used it as an opportunity to speak out against the Obama administration's treatment of whistleblowers and the sweeping information-gathering tactics that have recently been made public.

"Just because we have the ability to collect huge amounts of data doesn't mean we should be doing it," said Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman.

[READ: FBI Pick James Comey Nailed Martha Stewart, Nearly Capsized Bush]

The Obama administration has been dogged by a series of intelligence-related controversies, including the Justice Department secretly obtaining phone records of Associated Press journalists in pursuit of finding a government whistleblower and the vast data-gathering by the National Security Agency as revealed by Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who is currently on the lam in Russia.

Comey recounted his past experience of opposing enhanced interrogation techniques under President George W. Bush as a means of mollifying Leahy's concerns.

"As assistant Attorney General I had to fight for a discussion about whether this was the right thing: 'Should we be doing this and is it appropriate as Americans?'" Comey said. "I went to the Attorney General's office and said, 'This is wrong, this is awful.' I made that argument as forcefully as I could."

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee's top Republican, pressed Comey to commit to protecting whistleblowers, an area where Grassley said the Obama administration has been subpar.

 

"This confirmation hearing is part of that accountability – we have a responsibility to ensure the director will be able to balance the duties of FBI director against the civil liberties of Americans," Grassley said. "I continue to have serious concerns about the administration's treatment of whistleblowers."

Comey told Grassley that he agreed protecting whistleblowers should be a priority.

"Folks have to feel free to raise their concerns … retaliation is just unacceptable," Comey said.

Other topics discussed included the use of drones, the force-feeding of prison inmates at Guantanamo Bay, warrantless wiretapping and maintaining the balance between a free press and national security.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, asked Comey if he thought it was legal for the government to use a drone to kill U.S. citizen on U.S. soil if they don't pose an imminent threat, to which Comey said, "No."

"I agree with that answer and the current administration has not always been so forthcoming in providing that answer," Cruz said.

[ALSO: FBI Nominee Faces Questioning On Surveillance]

Comey also pushed back against a New York Times story cited by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., that criticized Comey for not opposing warrantless wiretapping under the Bush administration.

"I don't think the Times' story is accurate," Comey said, declining to offer many more details because he said he is unaware what details of the practice are still classified.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, appeared to take away any ambiguity about Comey's fate during his opening remarks, enthusiastically endorsing his nomination.

"I would be surprised if this wasn't the third time you were unanimously approved by the Senate, I hope that is the case," he said.

More News: