Published July 29, 2013
WASHINGTON – The Senate moved Monday toward confirming James Comey to head the FBI, despite a leading conservative's demands that the Obama administration provide more information on its domestic use of drones.
Senators were expected to vote Monday to prevent Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., from using delaying tactics against Comey's nomination. A final vote approving Comey was likely later Monday or on Tuesday.
Comey was a 15-year federal prosecutor before becoming the No. 2 Justice Department official under President George W. Bush from 2003 to 2005. He is best known for a 2004 hospital room confrontation in which he resisted top Bush White House aides seeking approval to renew a program permitting eavesdropping of domestic telephone calls and emails without a court warrant.
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.
The Senate's votes on Comey, 52, were leading off a week in which majority Democrats were hoping to push a parade of nominations through the chamber. Among them were President Barack Obama's picks of Samantha Power as U.N. ambassador and B. Todd Jones to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
This is Congress' last week before its five-week summer recess.
In 2004, Comey was briefly acting attorney general when Attorney General John Ashcroft was hospitalized with pancreatitis. One evening, Comey learned that White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales were heading to Ashcroft's hospital room, hoping he would recertify the program.
Comey, who like Ashcroft had doubts about the program's legality, rushed to Ashcroft's bedside and arrived first. Ashcroft refused to renew the eavesdropping program when the two White House officials arrived, and Bush later made changes in it.
Obama cited that episode when he nominated Comey in June, praising him for "standing up for what he believed was right."
Comey would replace Robert Mueller, who is ending 12 years as FBI director in September.
Paul, mentioned as a possible 2016 GOP presidential candidate, has been threatening for weeks to block Comey's nomination until the FBI reveals more details about its use of drones in the U.S.
He has written three letters to Mueller since June, seeking details on the agency's use of drones and the policies it follows in deploying them.
Earlier this month, the FBI responded to Paul with a classified and an unclassified letter.
The unclassified letter said the agency has used drones eight times since late 2006 for surveillance in kidnappings, search and rescue missions, drug and fugitive investigations. It said none of the FBI's drones have been armed and that the agency doesn't use drones for general surveillance unrelated to specific investigations.
The FBI also said it follows numerous rules and regulations limiting the use of drones, and requires clearance from senior FBI officials for proposed use of a drone. It wrote that the FBI doesn't use drones in situations "in which individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy" under the Constitution and said that so far, it has not needed to obtain a warrant for using drones.
In a letter last week, Paul asked the agency for additional detail, including specifying when it believes people have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Other Senate confirmation votes planned this week included approval of three Democratic nominees to the National Labor Relations Board: Mark Gaston Pearce, the board's current chairman, and Kent Hirozawa and Nancy Schiffer, who have both been long-time labor lawyers.
The Senate Judiciary Committee had approved Comey's nomination 18-0 on July 18.