The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday unanimously approved President Barack Obama's nomination of James Comey, a Republican who earlier served as an independent-minded official in the Justice Department, as FBI director.
The nomination now goes to the full Senate, which is expected to confirm Comey to replace Robert Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
All eight Judiciary Committee Republicans joined the panel's 10 Democrats in supporting Comey's appointment to head the FBI.
Comey, 52, served as deputy U.S. attorney general for President George W. Bush, a Republican, from 2003 to 2005. He gained fame and a reputation for being willing to buck authority after refusing in 2004 to certify aspects of the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program.
At the time, Comey was acting attorney general while then-Attorney General John Ashcroft was hospitalized with pancreatitis.
Comey's refusal prompted top White House officials to go to the hospital and try to get Ashcroft to sign the certification. Comey, who was in the room, said Ashcroft refused.
Comey's actions won him the support of Democrats who opposed Bush's domestic surveillance program. Comey left the Justice Department in 2005 and served until 2010 as general counsel to aerospace giant Lockheed Martin.
At his Senate confirmation hearing this month, Comey testified that he believed that the use of waterboarding, or near drowning, as an interrogation technique was torture and thus illegal.
Comey said he had made his views known when he was in the Bush administration but lost battles to stop the CIA from using so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding and sleep deprivation on enemy combatants.
If confirmed by the full Senate, Comey would oversee nearly 36,000 FBI employees, including 13,785 special agents who investigate cases ranging from domestic and international terrorism to civil rights violations, drug cases, white collar crime and public corruption.
© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.