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FBI Pick Is A Republican With Deep Roots In Law Enforcement

President Obama is expected to nominate James Comey, seen in 2004, to be the next director of the FBI.
Mark Wilson
Getty Images
President Obama is expected to nominate James Comey, seen in 2004, to be the next director of the FBI.
From 'Morning Edition': NPR's Carrie Johnson talks about James Comey

"Name any high office in federal law enforcement ... odds are Jim Comey's had it over the years."

That's some of what NPR's Carrie Johnson had to say early Thursday on Morning Edition about the man who she has been told, by two sources with knowledge of the decision, will be President Obama's choice to be the next director of the FBI.

Carrie broke the news about Comey on Wednesday evening. Then on Morning Edition, she added more details about the 52-year-old former deputy attorney general. For instance:

-- In 2004, when Comey was the No. 2 official at Justice during the George W. Bush administration, he rushed to a Washington-area hospital to be by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft's bedside. Comey helped thwart White House counsel Alberto Gonzales' attempt to pressure Ashcroft into reauthorizing a controversial wiretapping program.

As Carrie and The Atlantic Wire remind us, Comey later testified before Congress that, "I was angry. I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man who did not have the powers of the attorney general." At one point, he threatened to resign.

-- It was Comey who expanded the mandate of a special prosecutor appointed to investigate the 2003 leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. That probe led to the prosecution and conviction of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, for lying to investigators.

-- Comey's career also includes stints as the top prosecutor in New York City. While in that post, he prosecuted home styles guru and TV personality Martha Stewart for lying about stock trades. Before that, while working as a prosecutor in Virginia, Comey worked to take guns off the streets of Richmond.

If nominated and confirmed, Comey would replace FBI Director Robert Mueller, who is scheduled to depart in September. Mueller's 10-year term expired in 2011, but was extended for two years when finding a replacement proved too difficult.

Some of Thursday's related stories focus on the political angles related to the choice:

-- "By choosing Mr. Comey, a Republican, Mr. Obama made a strong statement about bipartisanship at a time when he faces renewed criticism from Republicans in Congress and has had difficulty winning confirmation of some important nominees. At the same time, Mr. Comey's role in one of the most dramatic episodes of the Bush administration — in which he refused to acquiesce to White House aides and reauthorize a program for eavesdropping without warrants when he was serving as acting attorney general — should make him an acceptable choice to Democrats." (The New York Times)

-- "The expected nomination would bestow an exceedingly important and sensitive post on a registered Republican who twice served as an appointee of President George W. Bush: first as U.S. attorney in Manhattan and second as deputy attorney general. However, Comey is widely viewed as an apolitical prosecutor and is best known for rebuffing pressure from Bush's White House to approve the reauthorization of a terrorist surveillance-related program in 2004. (Politico)

-- "The expected nomination of Comey, a Republican, was seen in some quarters as a bipartisan move by a president besieged by Republicans in Congress. But Chuck Hagel's prior service as a Republican senator from Nebraska did not spare him from a bruising nomination battle for secretary of defense." (The Washington Post)

As for issues that might raise questions about a Comey nomination, Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley said Wednesday that "if he's nominated, he would have to answer questions about his recent work in the hedge fund industry. ... The administration's efforts to criminally prosecute Wall Street for its part in the economic downturn have been abysmal, and his agency would have to help build the case against some of his colleagues." As The Associated Press notes, "Comey was general counsel to Connecticut-based hedge fund Bridgewater Associates from 2010 until earlier this year and now lectures at Columbia Law School."

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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