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Obama nominates Comey for FBI Director

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James Comey

(CNN) — James Comey, who served as a top Justice Department official during George W. Bush’s presidency, was tapped to become the next director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Friday.

If confirmed by the Senate, Comey would replace Robert Mueller, who is leaving in September after leading the bureau for 12 years.

“Jim is exceptionally qualified to handle the full range of challenges faced by today’s FBI,” President Barack Obama said during Friday’s Rose Garden announcement. “From traditional threats like violence and organized crime, to protecting civil rights and children from exploitation, to meeting transnational challenges like terrorism and cyber threats.”

Comey’s caseload as a former prosecutor who worked in New York and Virginia included terrorism, organized crime and fraud. He served as a deputy attorney general during the Bush administration, a role for which he has received both praise and criticism from outside groups.

Comey testified to a Senate committee in 2007 that he considered resigning his high-profile position over a disagreement three years earlier about the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program.

Government officials had told CNN that Comey had “vigorously opposed” aspects of the warrantless wiretapping program and refused to sign off on its continued use. The program was eventually reauthorized.

The appointment comes as the Obama administration wrestles with new controversy surrounding NSA surveillance involving phone records and e-mail – something Obama alluded to Friday.

“As we’ve seen in recent days, this work of striking a balance between our security, but also making sure we are maintaining fidelity to those values that we cherish, is a constant mission,” Obama said, noting he was “confident that Jim will be a leader who understands how to keep America safe and stay true to our founding ideals no matter what the future may bring.”

Human rights groups have criticized Comey’s alleged support of other controversial Bush-era national security policies such as indefinite detention and detainee treatment programs like waterboarding.

Since leaving government, Comey has worked in executive positions at defense contractor Lockheed Martin and the financial management firm Bridgewater and Associates.

Currently he works in academia as a senior research scholar and Hertog Fellow in National Security Law at Columbia Law School.

Mueller officially started the FBI job days before the 9/11 terror attacks and later saw the agency through terrorism and other high-profile cases.

Mueller’s term had been set to expire in September 2011 — per the 10 years that FBI directors typically serve — but, at Obama’s request, Congress approved a two-year extension. He’s now scheduled to step down in September.

On Friday, Obama thanked the outgoing FBI director, saying “Countless Americans are alive today and our country is more secure because of the FBI’s outstanding work under the leadership of Bob Mueller.”

By Adam Aigner-Treworgy

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