Comey in 2014: FBI must ‘maintain independence from political forces’

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CBS News revisited a 2014 interview it conducted with James Comey on Sunday night, replaying excerpts from a “60 Minutes” interview following the FBI director’s firing last week.

“I believe that Americans should be deeply skeptical of government power,” Comey told CBS’s Scott Pelley at the time.

“You cannot trust people in power, the founders knew that. That’s why they divided power among three branches, to set interest against interest.”

Comey, in the midst of a 10-year term, was fired last week by President Trump, a decision that drew criticism from both sides of the aisle.

{mosads}With a search on for a new FBI director, Comey’s answer to a question about what former President Barack Obama sought in a bureau leader is relevant again.

“The president’s view is that it has to be someone who is competent and independent to protect this institution,” Comey said.

Comey noted when pressed that the Department of Justice answers to the president, but said, “It has to maintain a sense of independence from the political forces … in the executive branch.

“And that’s why the FBI director is given a 10-year term, so that it is guaranteed that you’ll span presidential administrations to make sure that you’re leading in a way that’s not influenced by political winds.”

The New York Times reported Thursday that Trump had demanded a pledge of loyalty from Comey at a January dinner, which the FBI director refused. The White House denies that account.

Trump fired Comey last Tuesday, saying in a letter that the dismissal was recommended by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. 

Although officials originally claimed that the dismissal was based on Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, Trump has linked the decision to the bureau’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.  

“The premise I’ve tried to honor my entire career [is] that the rule of law and the design of the founders, the oversight of courts, the oversight of Congress will be at the heart of what the FBI does — the way you’d want it to be,” Comey told “60 Minutes” in what was his first network TV interview as FBI director.

Speaking later in the interview about surveillance, Comey circled back to the idea of checks and balances.

“We don’t do electronic surveillance without court order,” he promised. “We cannot read your emails or listen to your calls without going to a federal judge, showing a probable cause that you are a terrorist, an agent of a foreign power or a serious criminal of some sort and get permission.”

“It’s an extremely burdensome process, and I like it that way,” he added.

The topic of government surveillance came up earlier this year, when Trump charged without proof that the Obama administration had tapped Trump Tower in New York. 

Tags Barack Obama Hillary Clinton

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