- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2013

President Obama’s pending nomination of James B. Comey, a former deputy attorney general in the administration of George W. Bush, to head the FBI is the latest move by Mr. Obama to rely on Republicans to serve in key posts on his national-security team.

When Mr. Obama took office in 2009, he kept Robert M. Gates, defense secretary under Mr. Bush, in the job until July 2011. After Democrat Leon E. Panetta served 20 months as defense secretary, Mr. Obama again turned to a Republican, former Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, to fill the post at the Pentagon.

The president also tapped Gen. David H. Petraeus, once a registered Republican, to lead the CIA in 2011, although he resigned in November after admitting an extramarital affair.

Mr. Comey, 52, whose nomination is expected within weeks, would replace FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, who by law must leave the job in early September. Congress extended Mr. Mueller’s 10-year term in 2011 for another two years at Mr. Obama’s request.

“He’s a very strong individual, devoted to the Constitution, focused on the rule of law, and with a backbone that would make steel jealous,” Mr. Comey’s ex-boss, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, said.

Although Mr. Comey is a Republican, he has earned a reputation for not allowing partisan politics to get in the way of his job and of standing up to top officials in his own party, including Mr. Bush. Perhaps the most dramatic example came in March 2004, when Mr. Comey was serving as acting attorney general while Mr. Ashcroft was hospitalized for gallbladder surgery.

Mr. Bush and his top aides at the time wanted Mr. Comey to certify the legality of a National Security Agency domestic surveillance program, which was facing expiration under existing White House procedures. The Justice Department had ruled that the program would not be lawful without certain changes and, when Mr. Comey refused to certify it, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andrew Card Jr. decided to visit Mr. Ashcroft in his hospital room to obtain his signature to reauthorize the surveillance.

But Mr. Comey heard about their plans and rushed to Mr. Ashcroft’s bedside at George Washington University Hospital, arriving just before the White House aides. He urged Mr. Ashcroft, who was reportedly groggy from medication, not to sign the document.

By one account, Mr. Ashcroft pointed to Mr. Comey and told the White House officials, “There is the attorney general.”

Mr. Bush subsequently ordered that changes be made to the program.

Mr. Ashcroft declined to discuss the hospital episode Thursday, but he said Mr. Comey has demonstrated the strength to resist political pressure.

“I don’t know of anyone who is less likely to be influenced by political pressure than Jim Comey,” Mr. Ashcroft said. “He’s not oriented to politics and opinion polls. This is not a trifling individual.”

It wasn’t the only time Mr. Comey caused heartburn for the Bush administration. In 2003, he appointed his friend Patrick J. Fitzgerald as independent counsel in the CIA leak case that led to a perjury conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr.

In 2004, Mr. Comey supported Justice Department colleagues who withdrew a legal memo that had justified harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists. And in 2007, after leaving government, Mr. Comey publicly praised several U.S. attorneys who had been fired by the Bush administration for alleged poor performance.

Rep. Patrick Meehan, Pennsylvania Republican, worked with Mr. Comey when they were both U.S. attorneys and called him “a terrific choice.” He said Mr. Comey has proved his character “in the crucible.”

“He doesn’t wear it on his sleeve,” Mr. Meehan said. “He acts it out in his demeanor and in his deliberation. Jim is a leader, first and foremost, and he’s a man of character.”

He said Mr. Comey would be especially effective in leading the FBI in investigations of cyber threats and terrorism.

Born in Yonkers, N.Y., Mr. Comey spent part of his childhood in Allendale, N.J., where he became the victim of a harrowing crime. When he was a teen, an intruder broke into his family’s home while his parents were out, and held his brother and him hostage at gunpoint. The suspect eventually fled and never was caught.

“[It] gave me a keen sense for what victims of crime feel. I know that in some sense they never get over it,” Mr. Comey said in an interview with New York magazine.

A graduate of the College of William and Mary and the University of Chicago law school, Mr. Comey was a federal prosecutor in New York from 1987-93, serving under then-U.S. Attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, and in the eastern district of Virginia from 1996 to 2001. Among his early high-profile cases was the bringing of an indictment in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 American service members.

In 2002, Mr. Bush appointed him U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. In that job, he prosecuted several infamous fraud and securities crimes, including the insider trading case against Martha Stewart.

Mr. Comey also took over the prosecution of Marc Rich, the fugitive billionaire and campaign donor to President Bill Clinton who had refused to return to the country to face an indictment on tax evasion. Mr. Comey told The Richmond Times-Dispatch that he was stunned by Mr. Clinton’s pardon of Mr. Rich just before leaving office, saying “it takes your breath away.”

In Virginia, he launched Project Exile, a program to aggressively prosecute felons with guns. It was credited with reducing the homicide rate.

After leaving the government, Mr. Comey became general counsel at the Lockheed Martin Corp. in 2005.

He and wife Patrice have five children; another child died in infancy.

The 6-foot-8-inch Mr. Comey could find a bond with Mr. Obama on the basketball court. He was known to play regularly on the FBI’s court, where the president sometimes plays on weekends.

⦁ John Sopko contributed to this report.

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