The nomination confirmed weeks of speculation that Comey, who was the No. 2 in President George W. Bush's Justice Department, would be named to succeed current FBI Director Robert Mueller, who is stepping down in September. Senate confirmation, however, will be needed for Comey to assume the post for a 10-year term.
Comey, who until earlier this year was general counsel of Bridgewater Associates in Westport, was praised by Obama during the formal announcement of his nomination Friday afternoon at the White House.
According to the account of the announcement on the New York Times' website, the president called Comey "a leader who understands how to keep America safe and stay true to our founding ideals no matter what the future may bring." And, he added, Comey understands "this work of striking a balance" between security and privacy, the Times reported.
Westport resident Evan Barr, who worked as a federal prosecutor for Comey, said Comey has earned the respect of the FBI's rank and file
Barr was an assistant U.S. attorney when Comey was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York -- one of the nation's most prominent prosecutorial offices and one at the front lines of terrorism, corporate malfeasance, organized crime and the war on drugs.
"He's just a natural leader," Barr, now a partner and white-collar criminal defense lawyer at the New York City firm of Steptoe & Johnson LLP, said in late May when Comey's name surfaced for the FBI's top spot. "He's one of these people who walks into a room and has a commanding presence. But it's not an intimidating one. He's more of a genial leader with a great sense of humor and a great ability to connect with people. So that's another skill that I think will be useful in a big bureaucracy like the FBI."
Comey, who moved to Westport in 2010 when he took the job with Bridgewater Associates, an institutional money manager, became a hero to Democratic opponents of Bush's warrantless wiretapping program when he refused for a time to reauthorize it. Comey is registered as a Republican voter in Westport.
That incident should hold him in good stead during the confirmation process, Barr said.
"I think that episode reflected his integrity, and it will be remembered," said Barr, who is a registered Democrat.
Comey and his wife Patrice are the parents of five children. After leaving Bridgewater in February, he joined the Columbia University Law School as a senior research scholar and Hertog Fellow on National Security Law.