I Miss The Department Terribly
Comey sounded a little homesick for DOJ didn't he?
Back before Comey became USA SDNY, there was a bit of war in NY over the nomination for that office. The Bush Administration had already abandoned the notion of getting nominations from the Senators (who are both Dems) and had made then govenor George Pataki the point person for both USA and federal judicial nominations from NY.
Because of 9/11 and her special expertise in terrorism cases, Mary Jo White had stayed on at SDNY until 2002. She offered to stay indefinatley, but the White House had publicly shunned that idea. After all, political affliation trumps competence every time with this crowd.
Anayway, Gov. Pataki wanted to nominated a very nice man named James McGuire to be USA SDNY. McGuire reputed to be a decent sort, had zero federal law enforcement, or even federal civil practice experience. He had very limited trial experince. He had been Patki's Criminal Justice Coordinator, which means he was a guy who figured out how to move funding around to push the Govenor's Criminal Justice priorites. This experience might have suited him for a high level administrative position at main Justice, but was never going to qualify him for the most high profile US Attorney's gig in the country.
Now SDNY is the jewel in the crown of DOJ. Jobs there are more highly coveted than jobs in main justice, and along with clerking for a Supreme Court Justice, a stint at SDNY is one of THE most valuable and prestigious lines a young lawyer can have on their resume.
USA SDNY has enjoyed unusual independance from Main Justice, and depending on the personalites involved in some years the USA has held more de facto power within the District than the AG. For this reason the Southern District of New York is widely known as the "Sovereign District of New York."
Chuck Schumer did not take the idea of the home state senators being cut out of the judical and U.S. Attorney selection process lying down. Love him or hate him, you cannot question that during the first Shrub Administration Chuck Schumer blocked a lot of really, really awful judicial nominees–am I the only one who remembers his filibusters?? — not just in NY, but totally idealogigically insane wingnuts and craven "loyel Bushies" who were going to be slotted into Courts of Appeals with an eye toward putting one or more into the Supreme Court. Remember the Estrada fillibuster?
Schumer did some really hard core pressuring and horse trading with Pataki (which allowed Pataki to put at least one supremely unqualified, incompetant, lazy and just plain stupid person into a lifetime federal judgeship — every lawyer in NY who is reading this will know instantly to whom I refer), and forced the Comey nonmination for USA SDNY. At the time, I heard about it from a D'Amato person and from a member of the NYS Republican Committee.
In fact, it was Comey's own credentials and personal prestige that made the deal work. Every person who heard the idea (pre-nomination) seemed to have the same reaction, slap self on forehead and say "why didn't I think of that!" followed by a big grin. That was the first I knew that Comey was a Republican. Years later, New York Magazine reported on the deal.
Why do I bring this up? Well, at the time that Comey was appointed to become Deputy AG, the NY rumor mill kicked into high gear again. I heard more of the following from Republicans than Democrats, and since most of these folks were pretty directly involved in the judical nomination process, I take it pretty seriously.
Word on the street was that when the FBI realized that Rove was major suspect in the Plame leak case, they confronted Ashcroft and others about the conflict of interest — Ashcroft had once hired Rove. Moreover, Ashcroft did not want to have to stand up to the WH if there was going to be a cover up attempt. He was supposedly relieved to hear that "someone" was going to force Comey down the White House's throat.
I don't think the WH had any illusions at the time of his appointment that Comey might be a "loyal Bushie." He had already publicly (in front of over 100 pretty high powered and well connected federal practitoners) questioned whether the WH had lied to him to get him to hold Jose Padilla. Do you think for nanosecond that no one called DC the next morning with that tidbit?
Nope, the WH had to know by then that Comey was not a go along to get along guy. I always thought that the fact that New York Magazine made a point to talk about the fact that Schumer had forced Comey into SDNY to keep a loyal footsoldier out of there in an article about Comey going to Washington was a clear signal that NYMag had heard the same story about Comey being forced down the White House's throat.
I have always wondered who pulled that off. Was it Schumer? Was is a group of non-wingnut Republicans? I can tell you that many republicans saw his arrival in DC as the only hope that the party would not be destroyed by the Plame scandal, not because he would cover it up — but precisely because they were confident he would NOT allow it to be covered up. When he immediately appointed PatFitz, many good, honest, ethical, decent republican lawyers breathed a sigh of relief.
Pretty much from the day he arrived, the word was that Comey was effectively running DOJ and that Ashcroft was off at his farm in Virginia doing the planning work for his next job, and taking care of his health.
Certainly, Comey became the guy with his finger in the dike trying to hold back the worst of the WH power grab and trying to protect his beloved DOJ from the unethical assault that was to come.
You may have noticed from Marcy's timeline and Jane's post building on it, that the really outrageous things which were apparently in the planning stages for a long time, could not be executed while Comey remained in office.
Question, why did he leave? We can all see why he might want to leave, it must have been incredibly draining to be the only meaningful pushback against the WH and the Rovians.
But why did he leave?
Maybe, just maybe …..
Was he the first one purged? Was the purge of James B. Comey the necessary beginning of the larger purges to come?
Follow up question for the still open Comey testimony record.
Were you asked to resign?
If so, by whom?
Where did you believe that idea originated?
Was the "I miss the Department terribly" line a shout out to the miracle worker(s) who forced Comey into the DAG spot in the first place indicating that he would be willing to try to come in and clean up the mess Bushco has made of DOJ?
That would be interesting!
Distrust of Comey deepened after some of his early staff picks were vetoed by the White House for not having strong Republican credentials, sources say.
"The White House always wants to make sure the administration is staffed with people who have the president's best interests at heart. Anyone who resists that political loyalty check is regarded with some suspicion," says one former Bush administration official. "The objective in staffing is never to assemble the best possible team. It is to assemble the best possible team that supports the president."