By Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - President Obama praised James Comey, his pick to be the next FBI director, as "a rarity in Washington," someone who doesn't care about politics but is focused on getting the job done.
In announcing the nomination of Comey at a ceremony in the Rose Garden on the grounds of the White House on Friday, Obama alluded to the former deputy attorney general's actions in one of the most dramatic moments of the George W. Bush administration.
In 2004, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andy Card tried to persuade Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was ill with acute pancreatitis, to reauthorize a warrantless eavesdropping program while in his hospital bed. Comey, who was Ashcroft's top deputy and acting attorney general at the time, learned of Gonzales and Card's plan and rushed to Ashcroft's hospital room, along with Mueller.
Both threatened to resign if the White House renewed the program. As a result, it was not reauthorized.
"He was prepared to give up the job he loved, rather that be a part of something that he felt was fundamentally wrong," Obama said.
Obama also heaped praise on the outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller, who was the second-longest-serving FBI director in the agency's history, as an "exemplary public servant." Mueller started his tenure a week before the Sept. 11 attacks on the USA. Mueller is required by law to conclude his 12-year term by Sept. 4.
"I'll say it as clearly as I can," Obama said. "Countless Americans are alive today, and our country is more secure, because of the FBI's outstanding work under the leadership of Bob Mueller."
In brief comments, Comey also lauded Mueller.
"I must be out of my mind to be following Bob Mueller," Comey said. "I don't know if I can fill those shoes, but I know that however I do I will be standing truly on the shoulders of a giant - someone who has made a remarkable difference in the life of this country."
After stepping down at Justice in 2005, Comey went to work for the defense contractor Lockheed Martin as senior vice president and general counsel until 2010. In 2009, Comey's last full year at Lockheed Martin, his total compensation was listed at more than $6.1 million, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
In June 2010, he left to take a job at Bridgewater Associates, a Westport, Conn., hedge fund that manages $150 billion in global investments. He recently left Bridgewater.
Comey's own politics appear to lean Republican. The man Obama has picked to serve a 10-year-term leading the FBI has donated generously to the president's two Republican opponents for the White House. He gave $2,300 to Sen. John McCain's campaign in 2008 and $5,000 to Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign.
Comey is likely to easily win confirmation, but he could face some tough questions along the way.
In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in 2005, Comey argued that none of the most controversial provisions of the Patriot Act should ever sunset, including Section 215, which authorizes the collection of "any tangible thing" by the FBI. Civil liberty groups complain the provision has expanded the agency's power to spy on ordinary people in the USA.
The legal framework of the Patriot Act has come under scrutiny in recent weeks after revelations that the National Security Agency has collected phone records of Americans for use in terror probes.