FBI Nominee Supports Whistleblowers and Transparency

In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday, President Barack Obama’s nomination for director of the FBI spoke in favor of protecting whistleblowers and increasing transparency in government, welcome words for Project On Government Oversight and its allies in pursuit of government accountability.

When asked about the issue of whistleblowers, James Comey, who served as deputy attorney general during the Bush administration, responded that whistleblowers are “a critical element of a functioning democracy” and gave his assurance that he would not retaliate against FBI whistleblowers.

However, Comey’s statements before the Judiciary Committee represent a slight departure from some of his previously recorded comments. In a speech given in 2007 that was recently broadcast on PBS NewsHour, Comey said, “[S]ome things can't leak. The flip side of that is, when they do leak, the government has to do something about it, has to, because we care about the rule of law.”

The nominee also faced questions from the Senate about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court, which has come under scrutiny for approving the vast majority of the government’s requests for expanded surveillance. Comey claimed that the judges are not “rubber stamps” for the government, but said that he would consider releasing declassified summaries of court opinions. “Transparency is a key value, especially when it helps the American people understand what the government is doing to try to keep them safe,” Comey said.

Comey has a history of advocating the right to privacy. When the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program came up for recertification in 2004, Comey was the acting attorney general while Attorney General John Ashcroft was hospitalized. After Comey refused to sign off on the program, President Bush’s then-counsel, Alberto Gonzales, visited Ashcroft’s bedside in an effort to override Comey’s recommendation and secure approval for the surveillance program, according to Comey, Ashcroft also refused to certify the program and Comey nearly resigned over the controversy.

Read more of Comey’s testimony from Tuesday at The Washington Post.