POLITICS

Senate confirms James Comey as new FBI head

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Politics,Congress,Senate,Rand Paul,Drones,NSA,Surveillance,Sean Lengell

The Senate on Monday easily confirmed President Obama’s nomination of James Comey as FBI director, ending a standoff over concerns about the agency’s domestic use of drones.

Comey, who served as deputy U.S. attorney general for President George W. Bush from 2003 to 2005, replaces Robert Mueller, who had led the bureau since shortly before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

The 93-1 vote was opposed only by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. Presidential nominations don’t require House approval.

President Obama applauded the Senate action, calling Comey "a natural leader of unquestioned integrity."

"In the face of ever-changing threats, he has repeatedly demonstrated his commitment to defending America’s security and ideals alike," the president said. "With Jim at the Bureau’s helm, I know that the FBI will be in good hands long after I’ve left office."

Paul initially had blocked a vote on Comey but lifted his obstruction after he said the FBI answered his questions regarding its use of surveillance drones in the U.S. But the senator, a Tea Party favorite who is mulling a 2016 presidential run, added he wasn't happy with some of the answers, saying he disagreed with the agency's "interpretation" it doesn't always need a warrant to use drones.

“It is a shame that such an important and highly qualified nominee to lead the FBI had to wait an unprecedented 38 days to be confirmed, but I am glad that senators finally came together to ensure that the FBI has a confirmed leader at the helm,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who as chairman of the Judiciary Committee presided over Comey’s confirmation hearing earlier this month. The panel voted unanimously to send the nomination to the full Senate.

Comey, 52, gained notoriety — and the admiration of Democrats — for refusing in 2004 to certify aspects of the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program when he was acting attorney general while John Ashcroft was hospitalized.

While acting director his willingness to stand up to the Bush administration was highlighted by a dramatic standoff in Ashcroft’s hospital room, when Comey rejected an effort by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to get the Justice Department to renew a program that allowed eavesdropping without court warrants of domestic phone calls and emails.

Comey left  Justice in 2005 and served until 2010 as general counsel to aerospace giant Lockheed Martin.

Oregon’s two Democratic senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, critics of some FBI surveillance practices, voted “present” Monday on the Comey nomination.

Wyden said he couldn’t support the nomination because Justice told him Monday that Comey wouldn’t be answering several surveillance-related questions the senator had asked him.

“I hope that Mr. Comey will turn out to be a wise and appropriate choice to head the FBI but without more information about his views on these important questions, I cannot vote to approve his nomination at this time,” Wyden said.

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