|7th Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation|
September 4, 2013
|Preceded by||Robert Mueller|
|United States Deputy Attorney General|
December 9, 2003 – August 15, 2005
|President||George W. Bush|
|Preceded by||Larry Thompson|
|Succeeded by||Robert McCallum, Jr. (Acting)|
|United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York|
January 7, 2002 – December 15, 2003
|President||George W. Bush|
|Preceded by||Mary Jo White|
|Succeeded by||David N. Kelley|
|Born||James Brien Comey, Jr.
December 14, 1960
Yonkers, New York, U.S.
|Political party||Republican (formerly)
|Education||College of William and Mary (BA)
University of Chicago (JD)
Comey was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York from January 2002 to December 2003, and subsequently, the United States Deputy Attorney General, from December 2003 to August 2005. As Deputy Attorney General, Comey was the second-highest-ranking official in the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), and ran its day-to-day operations.
In December 2003, as U.S. Deputy Attorney General, Comey appointed the U.S. Attorney in Chicago, Illinois, close friend and former colleague Patrick Fitzgerald, to be the Special Counsel to head the CIA Leak Grand Jury Investigation also known as the "Plame affair", after Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself.
In August 2005, Comey left the DOJ and became General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Lockheed Martin, based in Bethesda, Maryland. In 2010, he became General Counsel at Bridgewater Associates, based in Westport, Connecticut. In early 2013, he left Bridgewater to become a Senior Research Scholar and a Hertog Fellow on National Security Law at Columbia Law School in the city of New York. He served on the Board of Directors of HSBC Holdings until July 2013.
In that capacity, he was responsible for overseeing the FBI's investigation of the Hillary Clinton email controversy. His role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, particularly with regard to his public communications, was highly controversial, and has been claimed as a factor in Clinton's electoral loss to Donald Trump.
Early life and education
Born in Yonkers, New York, Comey grew up in Allendale, New Jersey, the son of Joan and J. Brien Comey. His father worked in corporate real estate and his mother was a computer consultant and homemaker. Comey is of Irish heritage. He attended Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale. Comey graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1982, majoring in chemistry and religion. His senior thesis analyzed the liberal theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and the conservative televangelist Jerry Falwell, emphasizing their common belief in public action. He received his Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of Chicago Law School in 1985.
Early career (1985–2001)
After law school, Comey served as a law clerk for then-United States District Judge John M. Walker, Jr., in Manhattan. Then, he was an associate for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in their New York office. He joined the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, where he worked from 1987 to 1993. While there, he served as Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division. He helped prosecute the Gambino crime family.
From 1996-2001, Comey served as Managing Assistant U.S. Attorney in charge of the Richmond Division of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. In 1996, Comey acted as deputy special counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee. He also served as the lead prosecutor in the case concerning the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia. While in Richmond, Comey served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Richmond School of Law.
Bush years (2002–2005)
He was the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, from January 2002 to the time of his confirmation as Deputy Attorney General on December 11, 2003. Among his first tasks was to take over the investigation into President Bill Clinton's controversial pardon of Marc Rich. In November 2002, he led the prosecution of three men involved in one of the largest identity fraud cases in American history. The fraud had lasted two years and resulted in thousands of people across the country collectively losing well over $3 million. He also led the indictment of Adelphia Communications founder John Rigas for bank fraud, wire fraud, and securities fraud. Rigas was convicted of the charges in 2004 and in 2005, was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. Adelphia Corporation was forced to file for bankruptcy, after it acknowledged it took $3.3 billion in false loans. It was "one of the most elaborate and extensive corporate frauds in United States history".
In February 2003, Comey led the prosecution of Martha Stewart, who was indicted on the charges of securities fraud, obstruction of justice, and lying to an FBI agent. She sold 3,928 shares of ImClone Systems, making $227,824. The next day, the Food and Drug Administration refused to accept the company's application for Erbitux. In March 2003, he led the indictment of ImClone CEO Samuel Waksal, who pleaded guilty to avoiding paying $1.2 million in sales taxes on $15 million worth of contemporary paintings. The works were by Mark Rothko, Richard Serra, Roy Lichtenstein, and Willem de Kooning. In April 2003, he led the indictment of Frank Quattrone, who allegedly urged subordinates in 2000 to destroy evidence sought by investigators looking into his investment banking practices at Credit Suisse First Boston. In November 2003, he led the prosecutions in "Operation Wooden Nickel", which resulted in complaints and indictments against 47 people involved in foreign exchange trading scams.
Deputy Attorney General
NSA domestic wiretapping
In early January 2006, The New York Times, as part of its investigation into domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency, reported that Comey, who was Acting Attorney General during the March 2004 hospitalization of John Ashcroft, refused to certify the legality of central aspects of the NSA program. The certification was required under White House procedures in order for the program to continue.
After Comey's refusal, the newspaper reported, Andrew H. Card Jr., White House Chief of Staff, and Alberto R. Gonzales, then White House counsel and future Attorney General, made a visit to the George Washington University Hospital, to attempt to win approval directly from Ashcroft for the program. According to the 2007 memoir of Jack Goldsmith, who had been head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the time, Comey went to the hospital to give Ashcroft support in withstanding pressure from the White House.
Comey confirmed these events took place (but declined to confirm the specific program) in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 16, 2007. FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, like Comey, also supported Ashcroft's decision; both men were prepared to resign if the White House ignored the Department of Justice's legal conclusions on the wiretapping issue. FBI director Mueller's notes on the March 10, 2004, incident, which were released to a House Judiciary committee, confirms that he "Saw [the] AG, John Ashcroft in the room. AG is feeble, barely articulate, clearly stressed." Comey withdrew his threat to resign after meeting directly with President Bush, who gave his support to making changes in the surveillance program.
Enhanced interrogation techniques
In 2005, as Deputy Attorney General, Comey endorsed a memorandum approving the use of 13 enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding and sleep deprivation for up to 180 hours, for use by the CIA when interrogating suspects. Comey objected to a second memorandum, drafted by Daniel Levin and signed by Steven G. Bradbury, that these techniques could be used in combination. Comey was one of the few members of the Bush administration who had tried to prevent or limit the use of torture.
Comey later stated during his 2013 confirmation hearing that even though his personal opinion was that waterboarding is torture, the United Nations Convention against Torture was "very vague" and difficult to interpret as banning the practice. Even though he considered the practice to be legal at the time, he strongly disagreed with the techniques and opposed implementing them on policy grounds, objections that were ultimately overruled by the National Security Council.
Post-Bush years (2005–present)
In April 2005, Comey announced that he was leaving the Department of Justice in the fall. In August 2005, it was announced that Comey would enter the private sector, becoming the General Counsel and Senior Vice President for Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Department of Defense's largest contractor. Comey's tenure took effect on October 1, 2005, serving in that capacity until June 2, 2010, when he announced he would leave Lockheed Martin to join the senior management committee at Bridgewater Associates, a Connecticut based investment management firm. On February 1, 2013, after leaving Bridgewater, he was appointed by Columbia University Law School as a Senior Research Scholar and Hertog Fellow on National Security Law. He was also appointed to the board of directors of the London-based financial institution HSBC Holdings, to improve the company's compliance program after its $1.9 billion settlement with the Justice Department for failing to comply with basic due diligence requirements for money laundering regarding Mexican drug cartels and terrorism financing. Since 2012, he has also served on the Defense Legal Policy Board.
Testimony before congressional committees
|Dismissal of U.S. attorneys controversy|
In May 2007, Comey testified before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and the House Judiciary subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law on the U.S. Attorney dismissal scandal. His testimony contradicted that of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who had said the firings had been due to poor performance on the part of some of the dismissed prosecutors. Comey stressed that the Justice Department had to be perceived as nonpartisan and nonpolitical to function.
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.
Supreme Court considerations
Politico reported in May 2009 that White House officials pushed for Comey's inclusion on the short list of names to replace Associate Justice David Souter on the U.S. Supreme Court. Politico later reported liberal activists were upset about the possibility of Comey's name being included. John Brittain of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law stated, "[Comey] came in with the Bushies. What makes you think he'd be just an inch or two more to the center than [John] Roberts? I'd be greatly disappointed."[not in citation given]
In May 2013, it was reported, and in June 2013 it was made official, that President Barack Obama would nominate Comey to be the next Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, replacing outgoing director Robert Mueller. Comey was reportedly chosen over finalist Lisa Monaco, who had overseen national security issues at the Justice Department during the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012.
Police and African Americans
Comey said. “At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo — a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups,” including his own Irish ancestors. Law enforcement often treated the Irish unfairly and often regarded them as drunks and criminals in the early 20th century, he said. “The Irish had some tough times, but little compares to the experience on our soil of black Americans.” Deep-rooted societal problems often lead young black men to crime and create tensions with law enforcement, he said.
“Police officers on patrol in our nation’s cities often work in environments where a hugely disproportionate percentage of street crime is committed by young men of color,” Comey said. “Something happens to people of good will working in that environment. After years of police work, officers often can’t help be influenced by the cynicism they feel. A mental shortcut becomes almost irresistible.”
In October 2015, Comey gave a speech raising concerns that body worn video results in less effective policing, contradicting the President’s public position. Days later, President Obama met with Comey in the Oval Office to address the issue.
Comments on Poland and the Holocaust
In April 2015, Comey spoke at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, arguing in favor of more Holocaust education. After The Washington Post printed a version of his speech, Anne Applebaum wrote that his reference to "the murderers and accomplices of Germany, and Poland, and Hungary" was inaccurately saying that Poles were as responsible for the Holocaust as Germans. His speech was also criticized by Polish authorities, and Stephen D. Mull, United States Ambassador to Poland, was called to the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Applebaum wrote that Comey, "in a speech that was reprinted in The Post arguing for more Holocaust education, demonstrated just how badly he needs it himself".
Ambassador Mull issued an apology for Comey's remarks. When asked about his remarks, Comey said, "I regret linking Germany and Poland ... The Polish state bears no responsibility for the horrors imposed by the Nazis. I wish I had not used any other country names because my point was a universal one about human nature."
However, Abraham Foxman, then director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that while Comey "could have been clearer in the way he expressed his point, President Komorowski [of Poland] protests too much". While many Poles saved the lives of Jews, including Foxman himself, "the public in most European countries, Poland included, too often acted as bystanders and sometimes even as accomplices".
In June 2015, the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced that it had been the target of a data breach targeting the records of as many as four million people. Later, Comey put the number at 18 million. The Washington Post has reported that the attack originated in China, citing unnamed government officials. Comey said: "It is a very big deal from a national security perspective and from a counterintelligence perspective. It’s a treasure trove of information about everybody who has worked for, tried to work for, or works for the United States government."
Hillary Clinton email investigation
On July 5, 2016, Comey announced the FBI’s recommendation that the United States Department of Justice file no criminal charges relating to the Hillary Clinton email controversy. During a 15-minute press conference in the J. Edgar Hoover Building, Comey called Secretary Clinton's and her top aides' behavior "extremely careless", but concluded that "no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case". Comey's public comments came after Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that she would "fully" accept the recommendation of the FBI regarding the probe. It was believed to be the first time the FBI disclosed its prosecutorial recommendation to the Department of Justice publicly. On July 7, 2016, Comey was questioned by a Republican-led House committee during a hearing regarding the FBI's recommendation.
Letters to Congress
In late October, Rudy Giuliani, a Donald Trump surrogate and advisor, told Martha MacCallum of Fox News that "a surprise or two that you’re going to hear about in the next two days" was coming from the Trump campaign. Giuliani later said that he did not have insider FBI information. Later confirmed by a second law enforcement source, an unnamed government source told Fox News that the email metadata on the computer in question contained “positive hits for state.gov and HRC emails,” however, at the time Comey sent his letter to Congress, the FBI had still not obtained a warrant to review any of the e-mails in question and was not aware of the content of any of the e-mails in question.
On October 28, 2016, less than two weeks before the presidential election, Comey announced in a letter to Congress that the FBI learned of the existence of emails that appeared to be pertinent to the investigation of Secretary Clinton's email server and that the FBI would take steps to allow investigators to review these emails "to determine whether they contain classified information as well as to assess their importance to our investigation". Director Comey stated in the letter that he was writing the letter to "supplement his previous testimony" before Congress.
Comey's announcement was inconsistent with Justice Department policy and he was warned by lawyers at the Department of Justice against proceeding with his letter to Congress. According to FBI officials, Comey was aware of the policy, but considered it "guidance", rather than an ironclad rule. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, as well as both the Clinton and Trump campaigns called on Comey to provide additional details. The fear that information about the newly discovered e-mails would be leaked to the press influenced, in part, Comey's decision to inform Congress about the relevance of the new emails to the Clinton investigation, and he said that not doing so "would be misleading to the American people" despite not knowing the emails' contents and despite the risk of being misunderstood. On October 30, 2016 The New York Times published an op-ed by Richard Painter, a chief White House ethics lawyer for the George W. Bush administration, stating that he had filed a complaint against the FBI with the US Office of Special Counsel, which investigates possible violations of the Hatch Act, and with the Office of Government Ethics, in connection with the letter sent to Congress.
On November 6, 2016, Comey wrote in a second letter to Congress that, "Based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July". He thanked the FBI investigators who worked "around the clock" on the emails.
Senator Al Franken of the Senate Judiciary Committee held a press conference to demand congressional hearings into Comey's actions. Comey was broadly criticized for his actions, on editorial pages from both the right and the left, as well as in an open letter signed by a bipartisan group of 99 former senior Justice Department officials and federal prosecutors, including former Attorney General Eric Holder. According to the Clinton campaign, the letters effectively stopped the campaign's momentum by hurting Clinton's chances with voters who were receptive to Trump's claims of a "rigged system". Statistician Nate Silver said that Comey had a "large, measurable impact on the race" and that Clinton's marked drop in the polls after Comey's first letter was consistent with a burst of negative news coverage as opposed to a gradual decline. Voters who made up their minds in the final week of the race broke strongly against Clinton, which Silver said was enough to cost her Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania (and thus the election).
On January 12, 2017, the Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General announced a formal investigation into whether the FBI followed proper procedures in its investigation of Clinton or whether "improper considerations" were made by FBI personnel.
Russian election interference investigation
On March 20, 2017, in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Comey said the FBI has been investigating possible coordination between the Donald Trump election campaign and Russia, and whether any crimes were committed. A lengthy profile of Comey in The New York Times published in April 2017 looked at his handling of both the Clinton e-mail matter and the Russian election interference matter, finding inconsistencies in the Director's approach to both cases.
Government surveillance oversight
In his July 2013 FBI confirmation hearing, Comey said that the oversight mechanisms of the U.S. government have sufficient privacy protections. In a November 2014 New York Times Magazine article, Yale historian Beverly Gage reported that Comey keeps on his desk a copy of the FBI request to wiretap Martin Luther King, Jr., "as a reminder of the bureau's capacity to do wrong". After Comey's letter to Congress in October 2016, CNN and the Irish Times pointed out the similarities between Comey and J. Edgar Hoover in "influencing" elections.
He and his agency were criticized for their request to Apple Inc. to install a "back door" for U.S. surveillance agencies to use. Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden stated: "Jim would like a back door available to American law enforcement in all devices globally. And, frankly, I think on balance that actually harms American safety and security, even though it might make Jim's job a bit easier in some specific circumstances."
Comey and his wife Patrice Failor are the parents of five children. He is of Irish descent and was raised in a Roman Catholic household. Comey subsequently joined the United Methodist Church, and has taught Sunday school in the past.
Although Comey was a registered Republican for most of his adult life, he disclosed during Congressional testimony on July 7, 2016 that he is no longer registered in any party. In the past Comey donated to U.S. Senator John McCain’s campaign in the 2008 presidential election and to Governor Mitt Romney’s campaign in the 2012 presidential election.
- Comey, James (July 7, 2016). Hillary Clinton Email Investigation. C-SPAN. Event occurs at 01:43:06. Retrieved July 7, 2016.
I have been registered Republican for most of my adult life. Not registered any longer.
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Of course, we don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations, but here I feel an obligation to do so given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed. I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record. At the same time, however, given that we don’t know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails, I don’t want to create a misleading impression. In trying to strike that balance, in a brief letter and in the middle of an election season, there is significant risk of being misunderstood, but I wanted you to hear directly from me about it.
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[Silver wrote:] 'Comey had a large, measurable impact on the race' [and] 'Late-deciding voters broke strongly against Clinton in swing states, enough to cost her MI/WI/PA.'
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...while Clinton’s chances were slightly declining already after she came off her post-debate peak, the rate of decline began to accelerate a couple of days after Comey, once we began to receive some post-Comey polls. ... And while it isn’t proof of anything, the pattern is at least consistent with a “shock” caused by a burst of negative news for a candidate, as opposed to a more gradual decline.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to James B. Comey.|
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: James Comey|
- Department of Justice Farewell Address
- James B. Comey - White House Biography
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- James B. Comey Professional Biography, United States Department of Justice
- Transcript of James Comey's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, May 15, 2007
- "Intelligence Under the Law", a speech delivered by James Comey to the National Security Agency on Law Day, May 20, 2005
- "Corporate Counsel article - "Attention Must Be Paid"". law.com. January 1, 2008.
- Profile on Columbia Law School
|Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation