U.S. President Barack Obama has reportedly chosen James Comey, a registered Republican and former Deputy Attorney General under George W. Bush, as the next head of the FBI.
The current FBI director, Robert S. Mueller III, will step down in September, having reached the end of his term. Mueller took on the job just a week before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The post has a 10-year term, meant to ensure it remains independent of changes in political power. Mueller was given a two-year extension, however, when the appointment of a new director stalled in 2011.
Comey, 52, has worked as an attorney for financial institution Bridgewater Associates in Connecticut since 2010. His career in politics includes posts with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Virginia and in New York. His most celebrated moment on the political stage occurred, however, in the hospital room of the ailing former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2004.
Comey was appointed by Bush, but stood firmly against the Bush administration’s push to reauthorize a method of terrorist surveillance that bypassed the need for warrants in some cases. The reauthorization had to be given by the Attorney General.
Ashcroft was ill, and Comey was acting Attorney General. When Comey refused to approve the measure, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and chief of staff Andrew Card visited Ashcroft at the hospital to press for his authorization, bypassing Comey.
Ashcroft refused after Comey rushed to the hospital to confront Gonzales and Card.
Bush later modified parts of the measure that Comey had objected to, though the modifications remain classified information, according to the New York Times.
While Comey appears to be Obama’s top choice—sources close to the situation have confirmed this to the Associated Press, Politico, and other publications—the Senate must still officially approve. This is expected to happen soon, in order to get Comey in place by September when Mueller’s term ends.
Obama’s choice of a Republican may help bipartisan relations. The other top candidate for the job was Lisa O. Monaco, Obama’s White House adviser on counterterrorism and homeland security.
With Obama’s administration under political fire for its handling of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last year, appointing Monaco may have invited more Republican criticism, as the New York Times points out, given Monaco’s role in overseeing national security issues at that time.
Though Comey is Republican, his willingness to stand against the surveillance measure strongly supported by Bush may help Democrats accept him as a moderate Republican.