Comey a good choice to lead FBI

Integrity, expertise are his strong suits

By The Mercury

President Barack Obama appears ready to nominate James Comey to be the next FBI director. He’s a good choice.

Though he hasn’t worn a law enforcement uniform, Mr. Comey, 52, has nevertheless proved his worth as an outstanding crime-fighter. Among his successful prosecutions were members of the Gambino crime family and the individuals involved with the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers.

He is a Republican and served for five years in the Justice Department, rising to deputy attorney general during the George W. Bush administration.

He is perhaps best known for a position he took as deputy attorney general in defiance of the White House. That came in 2004 when his boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft, was hospitalized with pancreatitis. Mr. Comey, acting for Mr. Ashcroft, refused a White House request to approve a classified warrantless wiretapping proposal.

Chief Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Andy Card, President Bush’s chief of staff, then went to the hospital to persuade Mr. Ashcroft to approve the expanded domestic surveillance. Mr. Comey and FBI Director Robert Mueller interrupted the effort at Mr. Ashcroft’s hospital bed. Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card returned to the White House disappointed. Less well known is that Mr. Comey, Mr. Mueller and others in the Justice Department were prepared to resign en masse had the White House scheme succeeded.

The White House later reconsidered Mr. Comey’s objections to the plan and made changes he requested.

To his credit, Mr. Comey also argued against the Bush administration’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” saying, correctly, that they would hurt the nation’s stature in the eyes of the world.

Unless something hidden turns up or he gets caught in the partisan crossfire, Mr. Comey isn’t expected to face much hostility during confirmation hearings.

If the Senate approves his nomination, he would replace Mr. Mueller, who has served longer than the statutory 10-year term because the White House’s search for a replacement stalled in 2011. The two-year extension he was granted expires in September.

As FBI director, Mr. Comey would face daunting challenges. Among them are whether the FBI mishandled a Russian tip on one of the Boston Marathon bombers, the IRS’s selective scrutiny of conservative groups’ application for tax-exempt status and the administration’s tracking of news organizations’ emails and phone records.

In the bigger picture, Mr. Comey could well be inclined to redirect the FBI’s focus from its much expanded role after 9/11 — FBI agents now operate in dozens of countries — to more emphasis on threats inside the United States.

He appears to be someone who would bring not just great integrity but also superb professional qualifications to the job. One can’t ask for much more.

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