The US Senate overwhelmingly confirmed James Comey on Monday to become FBI director, elevating the one-time Justice Department official who defied efforts by former US president George W. Bush’s White House to renew a program that allowed warrantless eavesdropping.
Comey was approved 93-1 after one of the Senate’s leading conservatives abruptly ended delaying tactics that had blocked a vote on the nomination. Senator Rand Paul, mentioned as a possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate, had been thwarting the vote over his concerns about the FBI’s domestic use of drones.
Minutes before a vote that seemed likely to force an end to his delays, Paul announced he would allow a vote on Comey, saying he had received a letter from the FBI that answered his questions about drones.
Paul was the only “no” vote.
The vote led off a week in which majority Democrats were hoping to push a parade of nominations through the chamber. Among them were US President Barack Obama’s picks of Samantha Power as UN ambassador.
This is Congress’ last week before its five-week summer recess.
Obama nominated Comey, 52, last month. He will succeed Robert Mueller, who is stepping down in September after 12 years heading the agency.
“In the face of ever-changing threats, he has repeatedly demonstrated his commitment to defending America’s security and ideals alike,” Obama said in a written statement about Comey.
Comey was the Justice Department’s No. 2 official from 2003 to 2005 under Bush. He gained attention during a brief stint as acting attorney general in 2004, when he and Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was ill, rejected an effort by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to have Justice renew a program that allowed eavesdropping without court warrants of domestic phone calls and e-mails.
“James Comey proved that his reputation for unwavering integrity and professionalism is well-deserved,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said during Monday’s brief debate.
Leahy expressed concerns about Comey’s approval in 2005 of a legal memo that he said authorized the use of torture, including waterboarding, in which water is poured onto a suspect’s face to make them feel like they are drowning. However, Leahy cited Comey’s answers at a committee hearing this month, when Comey said the FBI would not allow abusive treatment of prisoners.
With the Obama administration under fire following recent revelations about the National Security Agency’s collection of records of domestic telephone calls and online communications, that 2004 episode and Comey’s credentials of serving under a Republican president helped make him an attractive candidate for the top FBI job.