Senate confirms Comey as next FBI director

James Comey
Getty Images
James Comey

Former Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Comey, a Republican who gained fame when he refused to sanction a government surveillance initiative in 2004, won Senate confirmation on Monday as President Barack Obama's pick to head the FBI. The vote was 93-1.

Comey, 52, will succeed Robert Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The roll-call vote began minutes after Republican Senator Rand Paul lifted a hold on the nomination, which he did when the FBI met his demand by answering questions about the domestic use of drones, unmanned surveillance aircraft.

Paul said in a statement that he disagreed with the FBI's position that it does not have to get a warrant to deploy a drone, but he ended his hold because the agency responded.

Paul cast the lone vote against the confirmation.

Comey served as deputy U.S. attorney general for President George W. Bush, a Republican, from 2003 to 2005. He gained a reputation for being willing to buck authority when he refused in 2004 to certify aspects of the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program.

At the time, Comey was acting attorney general while then-Attorney General John Ashcroft was hospitalized with pancreatitis.

Comey's refusal prompted top White House officials to go to the hospital to get Ashcroft to sign the certification. Comey, who was in the room, said Ashcroft refused.

Comey's actions won him the support of Democrats who opposed Bush's domestic surveillance program. Comey left the Justice Department in 2005 and served until 2010 as general counsel to aerospace giant Lockheed Martin.

At his Senate confirmation hearing this month, Comey testified that he believed that the use of waterboarding, or near drowning, as an interrogation technique was torture and thus illegal.

Comey said he had made his views known when he was in the Bush administration but lost battles to stop the CIA from using so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding and sleep deprivation on enemy combatants.

The FBI has nearly 36,000 employees, including 13,785 special agents who investigate cases ranging from domestic and international terrorism to civil rights violations, drug cases, white-collar crime and public corruption.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat who presided over Comey's confirmation hearing, said, "If we learned nothing else since the September 11th attacks, we learned that it matters who leads our nation — at all levels of government.

"James Comey and I do not agree on every issue, but I believe he is committed to the rule of law," Leahy said.