Given the importance of the FBI and the lengthy terms FBI directors serve, President Obama took his time in choosing a replacement for Robert Mueller, who’s led the bureau since 2001. It appears the president chose wisely.
The man poised to be the next head of the FBI is a former prosecutor respected by both sides of the aisle who may be best known for his role in a Hollywood-esque Washington showdown that thwarted the reauthorization of a controversial surveillance program.
President Barack Obama intends to nominate former Deputy Attorney General James Comey, 52, to succeed Robert Mueller as FBI director, sources confirmed to NBC News on Wednesday. Though Comey served under President George W. Bush, he has won praise from Democrats for his time at the Department of Justice, especially after details emerged of his dramatic effort to stop the reauthorization of a warrantless eavesdropping program in March 2004.
There are multiple angles that make this selection fascinating. There are, of course, the remarkable events from 2004 that brought Comey to national prominence. If you missed Rachel’s opening segment last night, stop what you’re doing, pass the popcorn, and watch it.
There’s also the apparent attempt at bipartisanship – the Democratic president keeps choosing Republicans for prominent posts in his administration, apparently in the hopes this will generate some goodwill among his GOP rivals. In this case, Comey, a Republican attorney, was a top official in the Bush/Cheney Justice Department, making it much more difficult for Senate Republicans to balk at his nomination.
(For all the assumptions on the right about Obama being a bitter partisan, note that the president appointed former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel to lead the Defense Department, former Republican Rep. John McHugh as the Secretary of the Army, former Republican Rep. Ray LaHood as the Secretary of Transportation, former Republican Rep. Jim Leach as head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, former Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman as the U.S. Ambassador to China, and former Republican Rep. Anne Northup as head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Obama also kept Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, in his post, and for a while, nominated former Republican Sen. Judd Gregg as his Commerce Secretary.)
Then again, Comey isn’t exactly your typical Republican.
We are, after all, talking about a Republican attorney who balked at the legality of the Bush/Cheney warrantless wiretap program, signed a legal brief endorsing marriage equality, believes terrorist suspects should be tried in America’s criminal-justice system, and even endorsed Eric Holder’s Attorney General nomination in 2009.
For some of the rabid partisans on Capitol Hill, I suspect Comey will be seen as a RINO (Republican In Name Only).
But there’s one other angle that’s worth thinking about as the process unfolds: if Obama had any reason to worry about ongoing investigations casting the White House in a negative light, the president would not have chosen a Republican with a history of independence to lead the FBI. On the contrary, if Obama were the least bit concerned about the so-called “scandals,” he’d be eager to do the opposite – choosing a Democratic ally for the FBI.
With this in mind, by selecting Comey, the president not only sends a bipartisan signal, but also one of great confidence.