US & Canada

James Comey to be nominated as next FBI director

James Comey at the White House, file picture from 2004
Image caption Comey would head an FBI under scrutiny for its handling of a Boston Marathon bombing suspect

US President Barack Obama plans to name a former justice department official under President George W Bush as the next FBI director, US media report.

The nomination of Republican James Comey is seen as a bipartisan gesture at a time when Mr Obama is under fire from Republicans in Congress.

Mr Comey is known for successfully opposing a warrantless wiretapping programme backed by other Bush aides.

If confirmed by the Senate, he would replace director Robert Mueller III.

Mr Mueller took up his post shortly before the 9/11 attacks and is retiring as director on 4 September.

One of the most dramatic episodes of Mr Comey's tenure as deputy attorney general in the Bush administration came in 2004, when then-Attorney General John Ashcroft was ill in hospital.

Mr Bush's White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andrew Card pressed him in his hospital bed to re-authorise a controversial programme allowing federal agents to eavesdrop on phone conversations without a warrant.

'Abysmal' Wall Street prosecutions

Mr Comey, who was acting as attorney general in Mr Ashcroft's stead, rushed to the hospital and intervened.

Changes were subsequently made to the programme and Mr Comey drew wide praise.

After leaving the Bush administration, Mr Comey was general counsel for Bridgewater Associates, a hedge fund in the US state of Connecticut. He now lectures at Columbia University law school in New York.

Some members of the Senate judiciary committee, which would hold a confirmation hearing for Mr Comey, have expressed concerns about his ties to the financial industry.

"The administration's efforts to criminally prosecute Wall Street for its part in the economic downturn have been abysmal," Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, said on Wednesday.

"And his agency would have to help build the case against some of his colleagues."

Before he became deputy attorney general, Mr Comey had a long tenure at the justice department, serving in many posts including as US attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The FBI and justice department have recently come under scrutiny for their handling of several investigations.

In the wake of the deadly April Boston Marathon bombing, Congress has questioned whether the FBI missed tips from the Russian authorities about one of the suspects that could have enabled it to prevent the attack.

And the justice department is facing questions over its seizure of phone records and emails from journalists at the Associated Press and Fox News.

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