James Comey: The Good, Bad, and Ugly About Obama's New FBI Head


On June 21, 2013, Columbia law professor James Brien Comey was named by President Barack Obama to succeed 12-year Director Robert S. Mueller III of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Speculation has arisen about whether Comey will be confirmed by the Senate as a result of his Republican political affiliation. However, a closer look at Comey's past under the Bush administration reveals that Comey may be just the person President Obama could utilize to start a new era in the security timeline in the aftermath of the recent NSA leaks revealing massive surveillance and data collection on American citizens.

The Good:

Comey has had a long history in the Beltway working for the government and more recently for the private sector. He served as the deputy attorney general under President Bush and is famous for his "reputation of integrity." President Obama has said, "To know Jim Comey is also to know his fierce independence and his deep integrity ... He was prepared to give up a job he loved rather than be part of something he felt was fundamentally wrong." Comey refused to allow the National Security Agency to continue its surveillance efforts in 2004 because he felt that the legality of certain parts of the program were questionable. He confronted the sick attorney general John Ashcroft at his hospital bed and urged him to recognize that the surveillance was unnecessary. Comey's urgings caused President Bush to alter the aspects of the surveillance program that Comey found problems with. Phil Mattingly of Bloomberg News said in an interview with PBS Newshour about Comey:

"In a particularly polarized time, he's a Republican, a Bush appointee, but he's one ... [who's] gained a lot of respect from Democrats during his role in the Bush administration. He's one that's going to get support from both sides."

The Bad:

On the other hand, an NSA Inspector General's report writes that "Although NSA lost access to the bulk metadata from 26 March 2004 until the order was signed, the order essentially gave NSA the same authority to collect bulk internet metadata that it had ... except that it specified the datalinks from which NSA could collect, and it limited the number of people that could access the data." After Comey's last stand, the program simply altered its legal terms and continued in the basic form it had already operated under. Comey still stayed with the Justice Department as the deputy attorney general until August 15th of 2005.

The Ugly:

Unfortunately, Comey is also known for authorizing U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to begin an investigation into who leaked the name of Valerie Plame. Plame was the CIA operative who had proposed a plan where her husband would travel to Africa to find out whether or not Saddam Hussein was acquiring uranium for nuclear weapons there. Plame's name had been published in the Post, and avalanched into a huge scandal over journalistic integrity and the Justice Department's possible interference.

Comey is also not the "civil liberty superhero" some see him as. Comey has come under fire as being receptive to certain infringements of civil liberties, while publicly being the face of the "libertarian cause." Laura W. Murphy, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's legislative office in Washington, has said that, "While Comey deserves credit for stopping an illegal spying program in dramatic fashion, he also approved or defended some of the worst abuses of the Bush administration during his time as deputy attorney general. Those included torture, warrantless wiretapping and indefinite detention."