President Barack Obama plans to nominate James B. Comey, a deputy attorney general under President George W. Bush, to become the next FBI director, according to two people briefed on the selection.
Comey, 52, was general counsel at Lockheed Martin Corp. and then at hedge fund Bridgewater Associates LP after he left the government. Most recently, he was appointed to the board of London-based bank HSBC Holdings Plc as a nonexecutive director.
Obama chose Comey over Lisa Monaco, his counterterrorism and homeland security adviser who was chief of staff to current FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the move hasn’t yet been announced.
The bipartisan pick comes as the Justice Department is embroiled in controversy over its investigations of journalists who’ve reported leaked government information. The White House declined to comment.
Choosing Comey may make it easier for Obama to win Senate confirmation of his FBI nominee amid Republican challenges to the administration. In addition to questions over Justice Department activities, the White House is dealing with an inquiry into Internal Revenue Service treatment of Tea Party-related groups and Republican scrutiny of the U.S. response to last year’s deadly attack on a U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.
If nominated, Comey would be confirmed by lawmakers, “and that’s the important thing,” U.S. Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who leads the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.
Rogers, a former agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, declined to say if Comey would be Obama’s pick for the position. Still, he called the former Bush administration official “a fine candidate.”
National Public Radio first reported Comey’s selection.
Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that Comey “has a lot of experience on national security issues, which is one of the most important focuses for the FBI in the aftermath of 9/11, and has shown integrity in dealing with these matters.”
Grassley, who said he hasn’t been contacted by the White House about the nomination, said Comey’s experience at Bridgewater will be a focus as he goes through confirmation.
“If he’s nominated, he would have to answer questions about his recent work in the hedge fund industry,” Grassley said. “The administration’s efforts to criminally prosecute Wall Street for its part in the economic downturn have been abysmal, and his agency would have to help build the case against some of his colleagues in this lucrative industry.”
Comey stepped down earlier this year from his post at Westport, Connecticut-based Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund, where he worked for three years.
Ray Dalio, founder of the hedge fund which has more than $130 billion under management, said in an e-mailed statement that Obama “could not have picked a better man with greater integrity or a stronger moral beacon than Jim Comey.”
Mueller, another Bush appointee, plans to leave the FBI in September after 12 years as director. The position is a 10-year appointment, though Mueller stayed on an extra two years at Obama’s request. Congress approved the extension of his term.
Comey, should he win confirmation, would take over an FBI that has been fundamentally reshaped under Mueller’s watch since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He would become the top official in the agency that is leading the investigation into last month’s Boston Marathon bombings.
Law-enforcement officials say the April 15 Boston attack, which killed three people and wounded more than 260, was the work of radicalized brothers, ethnic Chechens who immigrated from Russia. Members of Congress are scrutinizing the FBI’s handling of a 2011 tip from Russia about one of the brothers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, that might have averted the bombings.
The agency, at the request of Russia’s domestic intelligence service, conducted a three-month review of Tsarnaev’s activities in 2011, which included interviews with the subject and family members, and a look into his communications and Internet use. The probe turned up no derogatory information on Tsarnaev, according to the bureau.
Mueller, the longest-serving FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover, said in Senate testimony this month that the U.S. is confronting “a time of diverse and persistent threats from terrorists, spies and cyber criminals.”
“Foreign terrorists still seek to strike us at home and abroad,” Mueller told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on May 16. “Terrorists today operate in more places and against a wider array of targets than they did a decade ago.”
Comey, a University of Chicago-trained lawyer, served as acting attorney general in 2004 at a critical juncture in the Bush administration.
Attorney General John Ashcroft was hospitalized, and Bush’s White House advisers were attempting to persuade Ashcroft to reauthorize a warrantless surveillance program. Comey, with Mueller, went to his hospital room to intercept the White House aides seeking Ashcroft’s approval. Ashcroft said he had concerns about the legality of the plan and deferred the decision to Comey, who refused the request.
In testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2007, Comey called the experience “the most difficult time in my professional life.”
After Comey, Mueller and other top Justice Department officials threatened to resign if the program was reauthorized without their sign-off, it was revised.
Following his service in U.S. attorneys’ offices in New York City and in Virginia, Comey was deputy attorney general from December 2003 to October 2005.
Comey is a senior research scholar and Hertog Fellow on National Security at Columbia University Law School in New York, according to a statement from HSBC in January. The bank named him to a committee to combat financial crimes after paying $1.92 billion to settle money-laundering probes.
He worked from 2005 to 2010 as a senior vice president for Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin. While at the Justice Department, he led the President’s Corporate Fraud Task Force.
Comey served from 2002 to 2003 as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.