Comey was deputy attorney general in 2005 when he unsuccessfully tried to limit tough interrogation tactics against suspected terrorists. He told then-Attorney General Alberto 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, which produces the sensation of drowning.
Comey's defiance won him praise from Democrats. In a statement, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who will oversee Comey's confirmation hearing, said, "Mr. Comey showed the kind of independence needed to lead the FBI when he stood up to those in the last administration who sought to violate the rule of law." Leahy called for senators to give Comey "the swift and respectful confirmation he deserves."
Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Comey's experience on national security would benefit the FBI. "He's previously dealt with these matters with integrity and shown a willingness to stand his ground if necessary," Grassley said in a statement. He added that he wants to question Comey on his work in the hedge fund industry and wondered whether he could improve the Obama administration's efforts to prosecute Wall Street for its role in the economic downturn.
Concerns over Comey were raised by the American Civil Liberties Union, which doesn't take positions on nominees but is interested in civil liberties issues. ACLU senior policy counsel Mike German said while Comey stood up to some surveillance, he eventually approved the NSA program along with interrogation techniques that included waterboarding, as well as defended the indefinite detention of Jose Padilla, an American terrorism suspect.
"We want to make sure whoever sits in that chair has a determined interest in protecting the rule of law, particularly since they will be there 10 years, outlasting this president and potentially the next president," German said.