Two officials who worked for President George W. Bush, including one who threatened to resign to block legally questionable terror-surveillance programs, may soon be President Obama’s choice to head the FBI, according to people familiar with the search.
@-Text.normal:James Comey and Kenneth Wainstein served in sensitive national security-related posts at the Justice Department in the Bush administration. That could make for interesting confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee if Mr. Obama selects either to succeed FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III. His 10-year, nonrenewable term expires Sept. 4.
Their service as political appointees under a Republican president is a key factor in explaining the rise of Mr. Comey and Mr. Wainstein in the search. The Obama administration faces an expanded Republican minority in the Senate, complicating the confirmation prospects of any nominee who draws united GOP opposition.
On the other hand, Mr. Comey became a hero to Democratic opponents of Mr. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program when he refused for a time to reauthorize it. Mr. Bush revised the surveillance program when confronted with the threat of resignation by Mr. Comey and Mr. Mueller.
Mr. Comey also was deputy attorney general in 2005 when he unsuccessfully tried to limit tough interrogation tactics against suspected terrorists. He told Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales that some of the practices were wrong and would damage the department’s reputation.
Some Democrats denounced those methods as torture, particularly the use of waterboarding against detainees in Mr. Bush’s war on terror.
Mr. Wainstein was working for Mr. Mueller at the FBI when bureau agents at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, objected to abusive interrogation techniques employed by the military and when Mr. Mueller decided FBI agents could not participate in interviews involving these techniques. But there is nothing in the public record to indicate Mr. Wainstein was drawn into the internal Bush administration debates over anti-terrorism interrogation tactics or surveillance.
A Senate confirmation hearing would surely probe his role and views on these events.
The two are not the only names in the running for the key post.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, has backed New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly, a 69-year-old former top Treasury law enforcement official who some believe would rather run for mayor of New York.
The FBI Agents Association has recommended Michael Mason, a 23-year bureau veteran who ran the Washington field office and became executive assistant director in charge of the bureau’s criminal investigative division. Mr. Mason would be the FBI’s first black director.
One possible candidate with a strong background fighting terrorism who served in the Bush administration: Michael J. Garcia, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Earlier in his career, Mr. Garcia successfully prosecuted the mastermind in the first World Trade Center bombing case in the mid-1990s.
Mr. Garcia also headed Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in the Department of Homeland Security, an agency of 20,000 employees. Mr. Garcia, whose wife is an FBI agent, would be the bureau’s first Hispanic director.
Yet the credentials of Mr. Comey and Mr. Wainstein, both of whom are steeped in the battle against terrorism from a high-level position at the Justice Department, could be a huge plus for a potential nominee.
“To me, it would be helpful to have someone who is very familiar with the FBI’s post-9/11 transformation to ensure that it continues and both of these guys will be in a good position to pick up where Bob Mueller left off,” J. Patrick Rowan, who spent 18 years at the Justice Department and headed its national security division, said Friday.
Mr. Comey and Mr. Wainstein declined comment.
According to an Obama administration official, the selection process for Mr. Mueller’s replacement has been under way since the beginning of this year.
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