WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama nominated James Comey to be the new FBI director yesterday, tapping a Bush-era Justice Department official to lead the agency as it grapples with privacy debates following a host of recently exposed investigative tactics.
Obama praised Comey, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, for demonstrating unyielding integrity in the face of uncertainty. Flanked by Comey and his outgoing FBI director, Robert Mueller, in a sunny White House Rose Garden announcement, Obama said Comey recognizes that in times of crisis, America is judged not only by how many plots are disrupted, but also by its commitment to civil liberties and the ideals espoused in the Constitution.
"Jim understands, deeply in his core, the anguish of victims of crime -- what they go through," Obama said. "He's made it his life's work to spare others that pain."
"He's a rarity in Washington sometimes: He doesn't care about politics," Obama added.
Comey is perhaps best-known for a 2004 standoff at the hospital bedside of Attorney General John Ashcroft over a no-warrant wiretapping program. Comey rushed to the room of his bedridden boss to physically stop White House officials from trying to get Ashcroft to reauthorize the program.
If confirmed by the Senate, Comey would serve a 10-year term and replace Mueller, who has held the job since the week before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Obama praised Mueller effusively and said he could declare without equivocation that countless Americans are alive today because of Mueller's efforts. Mueller is set to resign on Sept. 4 after overseeing the bureau's transformation into one the country's chief weapons against terrorism.
"I must be out of my mind to be following Bob Mueller," Comey said. "I don't know whether I can fill those shoes, but I know that however I do, I will be truly standing on the shoulders of a giant."
Comey, 52, was a federal prosecutor who went to Washington after the 9/11 attacks as deputy attorney general. In recent years, he's been an executive at defense company Lockheed Martin and a lecturer on national security law at Columbia Law School.
The White House may hope that Comey's Republican background and strong credentials will help him through Senate confirmation at a time when some of Obama's nominees have been facing tough battles.