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Obama Makes a Superb Choice

Reports in the New York Times and Politico, among other sources, have it that President Obama will nominate former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to become head of the FBI when Robert Mueller's term ends in September.

It's an outstanding choice, and desperately needed to shore up the integrity and apolitical nature that is essential to the FBI and  --  especially now  --  the Department of Justice.

As I noted a couple of years ago, Jim and I were in the USAO for the Eastern District of Virginia together in the 1990's.  He was head of the Richmond office, and I was chief of appeals.  We worked on a number of things together, probably the most prominent of which was the threat by a district judge to hold our boss, the Clinton-appointed United States Attorney, in contempt for bringing so many gun cases into federal court.

Our boss selected Jim and me to represent her, notwithstanding that both of us were known to be Republicans.  In my case, it was because I had the reputation as the office egghead (an occupational hazard among appellate lawyers).  In his, it was because of his spectacular skills.

Jim will bring to the FBI those same skills, plus everything that is most needed just now:  Integrity, seriousness of purpose, guts and brains.

He is probably best known publicly for his face-off with then-White House Counsel Roberto Gonzales in John Ashcroft's hospital room about the re-authorization of a national security surveillance program.  I won't go into details just now  --  it's summarized in the NYT and Politico reports I linked  --  but Jim threatened to resign. After meeting directly with President Bush, the changes Jim wanted in the program were incorporated, and he withdrew the threat.

I got to know him well before any of that happened.  It was in the mid-1990's that, largely under Jim's supervision and that of another colleague, AUSA James Schiller, the USAO instituted Project Exile.  The murder rate in Richmond had been skyrocketing, and we knew why:  Drug dealers were shooting each other (and plenty of other people).  State resources, and particularly state sentences, were not up to the task.  Federal mandatory minimums were, however, particularly the five-year mandatory minimum under Section 924(c).  So we started bringing into federal court what had been state drug violence cases.

Not all the Richmond federal district judges liked it  --  hence the threatened (if absurd) contempt proceeding against the US Attorney, who, at no little political risk to herself, fully backed the program.

Jim, never one to be backed down, wouldn't waver.  The judge retreated; Project Exile continued full blast; and the murder rate in Richmond fell by 50%.

And that was just the first year.

I look up to Jim, and not just because he's a foot taller than I am.  The important part of his stature is on the inside.  President Obama has made a fine choice.  It may not be enough standing alone to rescue the Department of Justice from the quagmire of deceit the current Attorney General has brought to its doorstep, but it's one helluva good start.

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