President Obama Friday nominated James Comey, a high-level official from President George W. Bush’s Justice Department, as his next director of the FBI, calling him a “relentless” law enforcement leader who is “exceptionally qualified” for the job.
Comey, who served as a U.S. attorney and deputy attorney general under Bush, is a registered Republican.
“Jim is exceptionally qualified to handle the full range of challenges faced by today’s FBI, from traditional threats like violence and organized crime to protecting civil rights and children from exploitation to meeting transnational challenges like terrorism and cyber threats,” Obama said during a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden Friday.
In addition to his bipartisan credentials, Comey appealed to Obama in that he resisted efforts by Bush’s White House to extend a controversial surveillance program. Obama is now under fire for the widespread collection of Internet and phone data.
“At key moments, when it’s mattered most, he joined [FBI Director Robert Mueller] in standing up for what he believed was right. He was prepared to give up a job he loved rather than be part of something he felt was fundamentally wrong,” Obama said. “As Jim has said, we know that the rule of law sets this nation apart and is its foundation.”
If confirmed, Comey would replace Mueller, who has led the FBI for 12 years.
After making a series of second-term nominations that enraged Republicans, Obama’s selection of Comey is likely to draw bipartisan approval on Capitol Hill. It also continues Obama’s trend of appointing Republicans to high-level national security posts.
However, some progressive groups recoiled at the idea of Obama nominating a person so intertwined with the counterterrorism policies of the Bush administration, such as waterboarding and indefinite detention. The FBI nomination has been one of the worst-kept secrets in Washington.
Comey spent 15 years as a federal prosecutor, including a stint as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, before serving as deputy attorney general under Bush in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Comey now teaches at Columbia Law School and recently worked at Bridgewater Associates, a Connecticut hedge fund, and for defense contractor Lockheed Martin.