SJC Chairman Leahy Calls On Senators To Confirm FBI Director

WASHINGTON (Monday, July 29, 2013) –Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called on Senators Monday to support the nomination of James Comey to be Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Senate is slated to adjourn at the end of the week for the August break, and outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller’s term expires in early September.  Yet despite this pressing timeline and the Judiciary Committee’s unanimous support of Comey’s nomination, some Senators are posing an unnecessary blockade to considering it in a timely manner.  Leahy criticized this unprecedented move for one of the nation’s top security officials and called on the Senate to confirm the nominee.

“In contrast with the treatment of previous FBI Director nominees, who were all confirmed by the full Senate within a day or two of being reported by the Judiciary Committee, James Comey is the first FBI director nominee in Senate history to be filibustered,” Leahy said.  “The FBI Director plays a vital role in the President’s national security team, and the Senate must put an end to these dilatory tactics and act quickly to fill this important job.”

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 Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
­Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On the Nomination of James B. Comey, Jr.,
To Be Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
July 29, 2013

James Comey, Jr., should be confirmed to be our next Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation without further delay.  Director Mueller’s term will expire in early September so it is imperative that the Senate act quickly to confirm his successor.  That is why I worked with Ranking Member Grassley to schedule James Comey’s confirmation hearing as soon as we returned from the July 4th recess.  Earlier this month, with the leadership of Senator Grassley, the Judiciary Committee unanimously reported the nomination of James Comey to the floor.  However, in contrast with the treatment of previous FBI Director nominees, who were all confirmed by the full Senate within a day or two of being reported by the Judiciary Committee, James Comey is the first FBI director nominee in Senate history to be filibustered.

We should be voting to confirm James Comey tonight.  It has already taken twice as long to bring this nomination up for a vote in the full Senate as for any previous FBI Director.  President Obama officially nominated James Comey on June 21 — or 38 days ago.  No other FBI Director has waited longer than 20 days from nomination to confirmation.  The FBI Director plays a vital role in our national security, and the Senate must put an end to these routine delays.   

Nearly 12 years ago, when the Senate considered President Bush’s nomination of Robert Mueller to be Director of the FBI on the same day he had been reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee, I spoke about how the rights of all Americans are at stake in the selection of a new FBI Director, and how the FBI has extraordinary power to affect the lives of ordinary Americans.  I noted that the FBI’s sweeping investigative powers, when used properly, can protect the security of us all by combating crime, espionage, and terrorism.  But I also warned that unchecked, these same powers can undermine our civil liberties and our right to privacy.

When I spoke those words, I did not know that just 40 days later the world – and the FBI – would change dramatically in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11th.  As the full Senate considers the President’s nomination of James Comey, to be the seventh Director of the FBI, those words from 2001 hold true today.  With the increased counterterrorism role of the FBI, and the expansion of the FBI’s surveillance activities, it is even more imperative that the next FBI Director possesses an unflagging commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law.

James Comey is the right man to lead the FBI.  He has had a long and outstanding career in law enforcement.  He worked for years as a front-line prosecutor on a range of cases fighting violent crime, terrorism, and white collar fraud, which are all at the core of the FBI’s mission.  Mr. Comey also served as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and then as Deputy Attorney General under President George W. Bush.  It was in this role that James Comey had a dramatic hospital bedside confrontation with senior White House officials who tried to prod an ailing John Ashcroft to reauthorize an NSA surveillance program – a program that the Justice Department had concluded was illegal.  James Comey showed courage and independence by standing firm against this attempt to circumvent the rule of law.  I believe that he will continue to show the same strength of character and principled leadership if he is confirmed as Director. 

During his confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee, James Comey proved that his reputation for unwavering integrity and professionalism is well-deserved.  One area of great concern for me was James Comey’s approval of a 2005 legal memo that authorized the use of various methods of torture, including waterboarding.  I wanted to make sure that, as FBI Director, James Comey would never condone or resort to waterboarding a prisoner.  James Comey answered my questions and stated unequivocally that waterboarding was not only personally abhorrent, but that it is torture and illegal.  He also testified that, if confirmed, he would continue the FBI’s policy of not permitting the use of abusive interrogation techniques against prisoners, including sleep deprivation and cramped confinement.

James Comey and I do not agree on all matters.  I do not agree with him that the Authorization for the Use of Military Force permits the government to detain indefinitely an American citizen captured on American soil in military custody without charge or trial.  I will continue to oppose any effort to codify such an interpretation of the law, and was glad that James Comey committed to adhering to the current administration policy of not detaining indefinitely American citizens in such circumstances. 

Once James Comey is confirmed, I will continue to press him on the scope and legality of electronic surveillance conducted by the Government pursuant to the PATRIOT Act and other authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).  As I noted during his confirmation hearing, just because the FBI has the ability to collect huge amounts of data does not mean that it should be doing so.  As the head of our premier law enforcement agency, the FBI Director bears a special responsibility for ensuring that domestic government surveillance does not unduly infringe upon our freedoms.  I have long said that protecting our national security and protecting Americans’ fundamental rights are not mutually exclusive.  We can and must do both and I fully expect that James Comey will work to achieve both goals. 

After Director Mueller’s distinguished tenure at the Bureau, James Comey has big shoes to fill.  The next Director must face the growing challenge of how to sustain the FBI’s increased focus on counterterrorism while upholding the FBI’s commitment to its historic law enforcement functions.  This will be particularly difficult in the face of sequestration and other fiscal constraints.  But the FBI must continue to play a key role in combating the crimes that affect everyday Americans - from violent crimes to bank robberies to fraud and corruption cases.

If we learned nothing else since the September 11th attacks, we learned that it matters who leads our Nation – at all levels of Government.  We need strong, principled, and ethical leaders who will steadfastly adhere to the rule of law.  I am confident that James Comey is such a leader, and I urge Senators to join me in voting to overcome this filibuster and then voting to confirm him to be the next Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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