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Obama's FBI Pick Defied Bush to Stop Surveillance Program

Image: Obama's FBI Pick Defied Bush to Stop Surveillance Program James Comey

By Bill Hoffmann   |   Thursday, 30 May 2013 12:40 PM

The former Justice official being tapped to head the FBI by President Barack Obama is well known for dramatically stopping the re-authorization of a controversial surveillance program.

James Comey served as deputy attorney general under President George W. Bush, but he gained favor with Democrats after he stopped the White House from trying to coerce former Attorney General John Ashcroft into reauthorizing an eavesdropping program that required no warrants.

Obama plans to nominate Comey, who also once served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, to succeed Robert Mueller as FBI director.

The nomination is bound to trigger mixed feelings among Republicans who remember Comey's 2004 effort that thwarted an eleventh hour maneuver by the White House to get a hospitalized Ashcroft to sign off on more wiretaps.

According to NBC News, Comey rushed to George Washington University Hospital after learning White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andrew Card were meeting at the bedside of Ashcroft, who was critically ill.

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Comey, fearing Ashcroft would be coerced into approving the continuation of the surveillance program, had him explain to Gonzales and Card his opposition as well as the fact that Comey would have to sign off on it.

"I was angry. I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me," Comey said later in testimony to Congress.

Comey also threatened to resign, but withdrew the ultimatum after meeting with Bush, who agreed to make changes in the surveillance program.

After leaving the Department of Justice in 2005, Comey served as general counsel to aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, a post he held until 2010. He is now a senior research scholar at Columbia University law school.

One of Comey's most successful cases was the prosecution of 14 men in a 1996 terrorist bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. soldiers. As a U.S. attorney in New York, he also prosecuted Martha Stewart and several WorldCom executives for insider trading.

According to Politico, White House officials in 2009 pushed for Comey's inclusion as a possible replacement for Associate Justice David Souter on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Comey, 52, stands 6-foot-8 and was born in Yonkers, a New York City suburb north of the Bronx.

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