James Comey. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
So now comes James Comey, the Republican former deputy attorney general almost certain to be confirmed as Obama’s next FBI chief. Some liberals are apparently poised to celebrate. Isn’t Comney the hero who stood up to President Bush and his attorney general and insisted they stop warrantless wiretapping?
Not so simple. As my colleague George Zornick documented three weeks ago, “warrantless surveillance didn’t stop because of that episode. Bush just agreed to make an as-yet-unknown modification to warrantless surveillance, which continued.” And as Glenn Greenwald explains, NSA’s warrantless spying wouldn’t have happened in the first place but for Comey—who as deputy attorney general “approved a legal memorandum in 2004 endorsing radical executive power theories and warped statutory interpretations, concluding that the Bush NSA warrantless eavesdropping program was legal.”
George Z. affixes a plea: “Comey’s nomination hearings are a great venue to press the administration on its failure to hold big financial firms accountable for demonstrable misconduct leading up to the 2008 collapse.” He quotes Senator Chuck Grassley, who offered some refreshingly un-Republican concern about Comey’s stint in the banking biz: “The administration’s efforts to criminally prosecute Wall Street for its part in the economic downturn have been abysmal, and his agency would have to help build the case against some of his colleagues in this lucrative industry.” (Funny how they finally find a conscience on this stuff when the administration is Democratic).
But senators shouldn’t just ask Comey about hedge funds (he went to work for one, Bridgewater Associates, in 2010). They should also ask him about revolving doors. Barely three months ago Comey joined the board of megabank HSBC, shortly after it agreed to pay a record $1.92 billion fine for serving as a conduit for laundered drug money from Mexico, among other sins. The company announced that Comey would be helping “oversee efforts to combat financial crime.” Another Bush administration official, Juan Zarate, a former deputy national security advisor, joined HSBC to help them clean house. And before Bridgewater, he served as general counsel for Lockheed Martin. He was general counsel when Lockheed was busy building Coast Guard vessels that weren’t waterproof and whose hulls buckled in high seas, ignoring the whistleblower who pointed all of that out. Senators, please ask James Comey this: What did you know about the the “Deepwater” scandal and when did you know it? Were you involved in the false claims settlement against whistleblower Michael DeKort? And more generally, how can federal law enforcement officials make independent judgements about prosecutions against companies that once employed them?