On Friday, President Barack Obama announced his nomination of former top Bush Justice Department official James Comey to replace outgoing Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Director Robert Mueller.
Comey, a registered Republican, has been described by Jake Tapper as a sort of a “civil liberties superhero” and also criticized by the Guardian as a defender of tough anti-terrorism tactics–a mix Obama likely hopes will help repair his Administration’s tattered image with both the political left and right on matters of law enforcement.
Comey, the grandson of an Irish cop, is known for his now legendary late night battle with Bush White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez over the renewal of a warrantless eavesdropping program. On March 10, 2004, Attorney General John Ashcroft was in a hospital bed battling pancreatitis when Comey, who had temporarily become acting attorney general due to Ashcroft’s medical impairment, refused to extend the program.
“So I raced to the hospital room,” said Comey in a 2007 Senate Judiciary hearing. “Mr. Ashcroft was lying down in the bed, the room was darkened…it was only a matter of minutes that the door opened and in walked Mr. Gonzales, carrying an envelope, and Mr. Card. They came over and stood by the bed. Then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there – to seek his approval for a matter.
“And Attorney General Ashcroft then stunned me. He lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter … and as he laid back down, he said, ‘but that doesn’t matter, because I’m not the attorney general. There is the attorney general,’ and he pointed to me,” said Comey.
Comey’s critics on the left say that despite his commendable nighttime stance, he has “also approved or defended some of the worst abuses of the Bush administration during his time as deputy attorney general” including “torture” and “indefinite detention,” writes Laura Murphy of the Guardian.
Some of Comey’s former colleagues in unnamed news accounts have also described him as sanctimonious. “Jim has a flair for the dramatic and a desire to be the moral savior of mankind,” one former Bush official told the Daily Beast. “You have to worry about putting that much power in the hands of someone inclined to cast himself as the hero and others as the villains.”
In past statements, however, Comey has declared that his only commitment is to the truth.
“I don’t care about politics. I don’t care about expediency. I don’t care about friendship. I care about doing the right thing,” says Comey.