Out of the Woods / Westport's Comey an excellent choice for FBI chief

Westport resident James Comey, a former U.S. deputy attorney general and general counsel of Bridgewater Associates in Westport, has been nominated by President Obama to be the next FBI director.
Westport resident James Comey, a former U.S. deputy attorney general and general counsel of Bridgewater Associates in Westport, has been nominated by President Obama to be the next FBI director.Associated Press

In the midst of a rough start to his second term, President Barack Obama's choice of Westport's James B. Comey, 52, to be the next FBI director should bolster the president's sagging poll ratings. Comey, an independent Republican who speaks his mind and is highly respected, is a former official in George W. Bush's Justice Department.

With his relatively mainstream record, Comey's supporters believe that he will continue to exercise in his new job an attitude of bipartisan cooperation and unbending adherence to the laws of the land. He is known in legal circles as fair-minded and always well prepared.

Comey has been tapped to replace Robert Mueller who is stepping down in September. He was U.S. deputy attorney general in the Bush Administration, dealing with sticky issues like interrogation techniques and the use of wiretapping -- two major issues today.

He demonstrated his political independence by opposing the use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as water boarding, according to reports.

To his credit, when it came to Bush's wiretapping program, he once threatened to resign. He challenged the Bush administration's reauthorization of the warrantless domestic surveillance program. In fact, he wrote a letter of resignation, but never sent it.

For Westporters, it is of local interest that he was the attorney who prosecuted Martha Stewart during her insider trading scandal. Stewart volunteered to serve jail time before the case went to trial.

Comey's performance as a government official with a thorough knowledge of the law was so outstanding that it was reported he was on a short list for nomination by Obama on the U.S. Supreme Court. Obama eventually named Sonia Sotomayor for that opening.

Despite his reputation for independent thinking, the Federal Election Commission records show that Comey donated to both John McCain's and Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns.

On the other hand, he demonstrated his independence from the Republican Party by filing a friend-of-the-court brief in support of same-sex marriage, once again defying his party's official position.

He took issue with the Bush Administration's position in the midst of the U.S. attorney firing scandal, during which seven seven U.S. attorneys were dismissed for political reasons. At the time, Republican-appointed Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez denied any political motives and attributed the dismissals to poor performance. Comey was quoted at the time as bluntly asserting:

"The Department of Justice, in my view, is run by political appointees of the President. The U.S. attorneys are political appointees of the President. But once they take those jobs and run this institution, it's very important in my view for that institution to be another in American life that -- because my people had to stand up before juries of all stripes, talk to sheriffs of all stripes, judges of all stripes. [They] had to be seen as the good guys, and not as either this administration or that administration," he said.

It should be noted that Comey's nomination has the public support of the FBI Agents Association and it has told Seenate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), that it fully supports Comey's nomination.

In January, Comey joined the Columbia University Law School, as Lecturer in Law, Senior Research Scholar, and the Hertog Fellow in National Security Law. He has been appointed a director of the Board of HSBC Holdings and a member of the Financial System Vulnerabilities Committee.

Comey was most recently General Counsel of Bridgewater Associates, an institutional money manager in Westport, where he worked from 2010 to 2013, overseeing the legal, compliance, and security departments. Since 2012, he has also served as a member of the Defense Legal Policy Board, charged with providing independent advice to the secretary of defense.

From 2005 to 2010, he was senior vice president and general counsel of the Lockheed Martin Corp., responsible for management of the Corporation's legal affairs and law department, including serving as principal counsel to Lockheed Martin's senior leadership and the board of directors.

Comey graduated with honors from the College of William & Mary with bacleors degrees in chemistry and religion in 1982 snd from the University of Chicago Law School in 1985. After law school, he served as a law clerk for then U.S. District Judge John M. Walker Jr. in Manhattan, and later worked for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in their New York Office.

He next joined the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, where he worked from 1987 to 1993, eventually serving as Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division.

Woody Klein is a Westport writer, and his "Out of the Woods" appears every other Friday. He can be reached at woodyklein12@gmail.com