James Comey, Obama’s Pick to Lead the FBI, Stood Up Against the Bush Legal Opinion on ‘Enhanced Interrogations’

National Journal
Brian Resnick
Add to Briefcase
Brian Resnick
May 30, 2013, 8:05 a.m.

James Comey, Pres­id­ent Obama’s re­por­ted pick to head the FBI, is a Re­pub­lic­an. But he’s most known for be­ing a vo­cal dis­sent­er work­ing as the deputy at­tor­ney gen­er­al dur­ing the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. In one dra­mat­ic in­cid­ent when Pres­id­ent George W. Bush was seek­ing re-ap­prov­al of the wiretap­ping pro­gram, Comey stone­walled the ad­min­is­tra­tion at the hos­pit­al bed­side of At­tor­ney Gen­er­al John Ash­croft. “I was angry,” Comey test­i­fied about the in­cid­ent. “I thought I had just wit­nessed an ef­fort to take ad­vant­age of a very sick man who did not have the powers of the at­tor­ney gen­er­al.”

But that was not the only time he spoke out against the ex­ec­ut­ive.

In 2005, the Justice De­part­ment was com­pil­ing a leg­al memo on “en­hanced in­ter­rog­a­tion” (which some would call tor­ture). And Comey wasn’t happy with it — at all. In e-mails with his then-Chief of Staff Chuck Rosen­berg, he voiced strongly worded dis­sent that the ad­min­is­tra­tion would come to re­gret its push to al­low these tech­niques to con­tin­ue.

In 2009, The New York Times ob­tained the e-mails. Be­low are se­lec­tions. Read the whole chain of e-mails at The New York Times:

The AG [At­tor­ney Gen­er­al] ex­plained that he was un­der great pres­sure from the Vice Pres­id­ent [Dick Cheney] to com­plete both memos, and that the Pres­id­ent had even raised it last week …

Yes­ter­day morn­ing, I got the most re­cent draft of the second opin­ion and read it. My con­cerns were not al­layed, only heightened. Patrick [a Justice De­part­ment law­yer] felt just as strongly that this was wrong….

I told [Al­berto Gonzales’s chief of staff] that the people who were ap­ply­ing pres­sure now would not be there when the ___ hit the fan. Rather, they would simply say they had only asked for an opin­ion. It would be Al­berto Gonzales in the bull­seye. I told him that my job was to pro­tect the De­part­m­wnt [sic] and the AG and that I could not agree to this be­cause it was wrong. I told him it could be made right in a week, which was a blink of an eye, and that nobody would un­der­stand at a hear­ing three years from now why we didn’t take that week….

… It leaves me feel­ing sad for the De­part­ment and the AG. I don’t know what more is to be done, giv­en that I have already sub­mit­ted my resig­na­tion. I just hope that when all of this comes out, this in­sti­tu­tion doesn’t take the hit, but rather taken by those in­di­vidu­als who oc­cu­pied po­s­i­tions at the OLC [The Of­fice of Leg­al Coun­sel] and OAG and were too weak to stand up for the prin­ciples that un­drgird [sic] the rest of this great in­sti­tu­tion….

People may think it strange to hear me say I miss John Ash­croft, but as in­tim­id­ated as he could be by the WH, when it came to crunch-time, he stood up, even from an in­tens­ive care hos­pit­al bed. That back­bone is gone.

Matt Berman contributed to this article.
What We're Following See More »
Possible Active Shooter at Alabama Military Installation
41 minutes ago
Senate Procedural Vote Now Coming on Wednesday
42 minutes ago
SCOTUS to Hear Sports Betting Case
1 hours ago

"The U.S. Supreme Court has given new life to New Jersey's challenge to a federal sports betting ban, with the high court announcing Tuesday that it hear an appeal of federal court decisions that have blocked the state's plans. That extends a six-year effort led by Gov. Chris Christie to allow expanded gambling at Monmouth Park." The NFL, NCAA, and other popular sports leagues had opposed the sports betting there and at other New Jersey locations.

More Chemical Weapons Activity Spotted at Syrian Base
2 hours ago

"The Pentagon said Tuesday the United States has seen chemical weapons activity at Syrian air base used in past chemical attack." A Pentagon spokesman confirmed what the White House first said Monday night: that "Bashar Assad appears to be taking some of the same actions he took before a chemical weapons attack on his own people in April."

Ethics Committee Looking into Conyers, Lujan
5 hours ago

"The House Ethics Committee acknowledged Monday it is investigating Reps. Ben Ray Luján, John Conyers and House staffer Michael Collins. The panel did not disclose details of its inquiry. Since the probe was referred to the House committee by the Office of Congressional Ethics, details of the OCE’s reports are expected to be made public August 9."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.