Is James Comey the Right Choice to Head the FBI?

President Obama will name the former Bush administration Justice Department official as head of the agency.

James Comey.
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President Barack Obama plans to nominate James Comey as director of the FBI, administration officials said Wednesday. Comey is a Republican and former deputy attorney general under George W. Bush.

The nomination is a signal of bipartisanship from Obama, who has had difficulty seeing his nominees confirmed, and is likely to garner support from both parties in the Senate. Comey, a former hedge fund manager and former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, would take over the position from Robert Mueller. Mueller's term expires in September, and FBI officials hope Obama will formally make the nomination and leave ample time to confirm Comey before the post must be vacated.

Comey is most well-known for an incident in 2004, when he was standing in for Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was hospitalized with pancreatitis. As acting attorney general, Comey refused to reauthorize the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and White House counsel Alberto Gonazles attempted to sidestep Comey and appeal to Ashcroft while he was disoriented in the hospital. Comey beat them to Ashcroft's hospital room and prevented the program from being approved, and was widely praised for adhering to the law.

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Comey testified before Congress on the indicident in 2007, saying, "I was angry. I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me. I thought he had conducted himself in a way that demonstrated a strength I had never seen before, but still I thought it was improper."

Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian writes that while Comey's actions at that time were admirable and he wasn't the worst of the Bush administration's officials, he still authorized some questionable programs while at the Department of Justice:

He engaged in some rare, commendable conduct, including objecting to the more extreme version of the NSA program to the point of threatening resignation, and voicing serious reservations about the wisdom of some of the more extreme torture techniques. I understand the respect people have for some of what he did, and even share it.

But whatever else was true, he was the lawyer who legally approved that warrantless NSA program that the New York Times revealed that caused so much scandal. And he was part of the process that legalized the torture techniques used by the Bush administration. How can that possibly not disqualify him from running the FBI in the eyes of progressives who claimed to find all of that so atrocious and such an assault on all that is dear and good in the world?

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The other candidate being considered for the job was Lisa Monaco, who succeeded John Brennan as Obama's top counterrorism adviser in the president's second term. She oversaw national security topics at the Justice Department during the terrorist attacks last September in Benghazi, Libya, and Democrats worried her confirmation hearings would only bring another opportunity for Republicans to press for more details on the attacks.

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