By Zoe Tillman and Todd Ruger
Former senior U.S. Department of Justice official James Comey is expected to be President Barack Obama's pick to lead the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to several reports.
Comey served as the deputy attorney general under President George W. Bush in the mid-2000s, leaving Main Justice in 2005 for the private sector. He was general counsel at Lockheed Martin Corp. and, more recently, hedge fund Bridgewater Associates LP in Connecticut. Earlier this year, he joined Columbia Law School as a senior research scholar in national security law. Since 2012, according to Columbia, Comey has been a member of the defense legal policy board, which provides independent advice to the secretary of defense.
If nominated, Comey would replace outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller III, who is slated to leave the agency's top job by early September. A Justice Department spokeswoman referred questions to the White House. A White House spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Comey could not immediately be reached.
Comey got his start in private practice at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher after graduating from the University of Chicago Law School in 1985. In 1987, he joined the U.S. attorney's office in the Southern District of New York, eventually serving as deputy chief of the criminal division. In 1993, he went back to private practice, working as an associate and eventually as a partner in the Richmond, Va., office of McGuireWoods.
He left the firm in 1996 to join the U.S. attorney's office in Richmond as the managing assistant U.S. attorney. In the year leading up to his appointment in 2003 as deputy attorney general—the second-highest position in the Justice Department—he again served as a prosecutor in the Southern District of New York.
At the Justice Department, Comey made headlines for arguing against the Bush administration on a controversial warrantless surveillance program, at one point threatening to resign. In 2008, Legal Times named Comey as one of 30 “Champions” who upheld their profession's core values of public duty. "He used to say the duty of a lawyer is to say 'Yes' whenever you can and 'No' when you have to," Craig Morford, former deputy attorney general, said at the time. "I think the incident he described is a good example of just how tough the role of a lawyer can be."
His threat to leave was mentioned in Bush’s memoir, Decision Points. Bush eventually backed down and Comey and Mueller–who was already director of the FBI at the time–dropped their threats to quit.
In 2007, Comey appeared before a Senate committee and provided dramatic new details about the internal Justice Department rebellion against the White House's warrantless surveillance program in 2004. He told Congress that the White House briefly reauthorized the program over the objections of the government's top legal officials. During another appearance on Capitol Hill, Comey gave high praise to five of eight prosecutors fired by the department the previous year in what was considered a rebuke to Justice Department leadership at the time.
Later that year, Comey’s name was floated as a possible successor for former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Observers expressed reticence about his chances because of his criticism of Gonzales over wiretapping issues. "He would not be seen as loyal enough for the administration," Rachel Barkow, criminal law professor at New York University Law School said at the time.
Also worth noting: in 2011, Comey testified at a Senate hearing on plans at the time to extend Mueller's term as FBI director.