President Obama is about to nominate a new director for the FBI whose credentials are impeccable and whom both parties would be wise to support, assuming nothing unexpected arises from the choice of James Comey.
Comey is a Republican, which may discomfit some Democrats, but it shouldn’t. If any agencies of the federal government need to operate beyond the reach of politics, it is those with policing powers.
Comey certainly has the resume for the job. He has been a law clerk for a federal judge and a member of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Southern New York, where he helped prosecute the Gambino crime family. He was managing assistant U.S. attorney in Richmond, Va., and was the lead prosecutor in the Khobar Towers bombing case in Saudi Arabia.
As deputy attorney general in the Bush administration, he led the federal investigation of Martha Stewart and – Western New Yorkers, take note – of the indictment of John Rigas and Adelphia Communications.
More significantly, he demonstrated during the Bush years that he can stand up to intense political pressure, and in about as dramatic a way as possible. Not only did Comey criticize the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, but in riveting Senate testimony, he revealed how he blocked an effort by the administration of George W. Bush, for which he worked, to renew a warrantless wiretap program he knew to be illegal (see http://bit.ly/11tBe8i).
That took tremendous courage and it should suggest to Republicans that if Comey had the fortitude to resist inappropriate pressure from the leaders of his own party, he would also be able to do so in a Democratic administration.
What is more, while many Senate Republicans have adopted a block-Obama strategy on just about everything, they might not want to remind the public of the despicable conduct that occurred when Comey headed off an effort to get an ailing John Ashcroft, then attorney general, to approve the illegal wiretap program. The clock is ticking on this particular nomination. The FBI’s current director, Robert S. Mueller III, is stepping down at the beginning of September – two years beyond the 10-year limit established by law. Congress agreed to extend his term by two years.
The agency remains in the midst of significant change, with its mission extending globally and focusing more on anti-terrorism than on collaring domestic criminals. The country cannot afford to leave the FBI without a strong leader, and Comey is well-suited to this position.
Once Obama makes the announcement, the Senate should set about conducting a thorough, fair and serious examination process that leads to a vote by the full Senate as soon as possible. This is not a time for legislative play-acting.