Since news leaked late last month that James Comey was President Barack Obama's likely choice to be the next director of the FBI, praise for the former deputy attorney general has been bipartisan and almost universal.
The president’s choice for the job that carries a ten-year term won high marks primarily because Comey, also a former U.S. attorney, is considered a “lawman’s lawman” who is above politics.
Inevitably hailed on all sides of the political spectrum is an incident Comey was involved with nine years ago that resonates with recent news developments.
In 2004, while acting attorney general, Comey refused to certify the legality of aspects of a surveillance program by the National Security Agency.
In order for the Bush White House to continue the program, certification from the attorney general was needed. With then-Attorney General John Ashcroft hospitalized at the time, the decision fell to Comey.
Ashcroft later backed the decision by Comey, who withdrew an earlier threat to resign after President George W. Bush agreed to restructure the program.
Two former FBI agents who were themselves seriously considered for the directorship in the past told Newsmax that the choice of the 52-year-old Comey is outstanding.
“I think it’s good news" that Comey will be appointed, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, a former FBI agent and U.S. attorney who was considered for the directorship in 1987, told Newsmax. “He says no when he sees something improper, and it’s a credit to his own leadership that he said no on a sensitive matter during the Bush years.”
Neil Welch, former special agent-in-charge of the FBI offices in Buffalo and Philadelphia, was the unanimous pick in 1977 of President Jimmy Carter's search committee for FBI director. Carter rejected the recommendation and instead chose federal Judge William Webster.
Now retired in Florida, Welch told Newsmax: “The early reports certainly indicate [Comey] is a very high quality person who has had some remarkable top level legal experience and has proven himself as a man of great courage and legal integrity in his stand-up performance in the ‘hospital episode.'"
But, as is usually the case with high-level federal appointments, "almost universal" means not everyone is pleased.
The FBI Agents Association of America had publicly endorsed Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a former FBI agent, to succeed retiring Director Robert Mueller.
“Former agents possess the necessary DNA, which they acquire at the FBI Academy and bureau field offices,” former Republican Rep. Mike Oxley of Ohio, himself a former agent, told Newsmax.
“That’s why the FBI Agents Association supported Mike [Rogers],” said Oxley. The FBIAA has 12,000 members who are active and retired agents.
White House sources said before settling on Comey, the choice for the directorship was down to Comey and Lisa Monaco, the president’s counterterrorism adviser and a longtime top aide to Mueller.
Because of her closeness to Obama and Mueller -- she was frequently seen in photographs with both following the Boston Marathon bombing -- the 45-year-old Monaco was widely seen as the front-runner.
But, because of that very closeness, the same sources said, it was highly likely that Monaco would have faced similar grilling in the Senate confirmation process to that experienced by former counterterrorism adviser John Brennan when he was named CIA director.
In contrast, there is an aura of non-partisanship around Comey.
No FBI director in fact, has been as closely tied to the opposition party of the president appointing him as Comey -- a registered Republican who not only served in the Bush administration but contributed to Obama opponents John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012.
Although there are sure to be stormy confirmation fights ahead for Obama nominees, all signs are James Comey will not be one of them.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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