How Obama’s FBI Pick Tried To Stop Warrantless Wiretapping


President Obama is expected to nominate James Comey as the next director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, turning to a former Bush administration official who left government after clashing with the White House over warrantless domestic wiretapping.

Comey, a Republican, was the No. 2 official at the Justice Department in 2004 when the administration’s wiretapping program came up for renewal. With John Ashcroft hospitalized at the time with acute pancreatitis, Comey was the acting attorney general. It was his job to reauthorize the controversial program, but with deep concerns about its legality, Comey refused to sign.

The standoff culminated in a dramatic confrontation between Comey and then White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, and President Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew Card, at Ashcroft’s hospital bedside. Jack Goldsmith, who worked under Comey at the DOJ, recalled the episode to FRONTLINE in the below scene from the film Cheney’s Law:

Comey would later testify about the incident before Congress, telling lawmakers the exchange nearly led him to resign:

I was angry. I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man who did not have the powers of the attorney general … I believed that I couldn’t stay if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice has said had no legal basis. I just simply couldn’t stay.

Read more about the unprecedented rebellion at the Justice Department here.

blog comments powered by Disqus

In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.



Frontline Journalism Fund

Supporting Investigative Reporting

Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation, the John and Helen Glessner Family Trust, the Ford Foundation, Wyncote Foundation, and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation.

Privacy Policy   Journalistic Guidelines   PBS Privacy Policy   PBS Terms of Use   Corporate Sponsorship
FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation.
Web Site Copyright ©1995-2015 WGBH Educational Foundation
PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.