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FBI Director Nominee Comes Before Senate Judiciary Committee

Prepared Statement of Ranking Member Grassley of Iowa
U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary
Nomination of James B. Comey to be Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  Mr. Comey, thank you for being here today.  The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is charged with running a vast agency with tremendous power.  This power, if used inappropriately, could threaten the civil liberties of every American.  However, when used appropriately, and subject to rigorous oversight by Congress, it protects the nation from terrorists, spies and hardened criminals.

The Attorney General is commonly referred to as the top law enforcement officer in the country.  The FBI Director serves the Attorney General as the Top Cop on the street.

It’s a demanding job that requires a keen understanding of the law, sound management skills, calm under significant pressure, and a level head.  Director Mueller learned this soon after arriving at FBI headquarters when the United States was attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001.

As a result of those terrible attacks, Director Mueller’s mission as FBI Director changed instantly.  Instead of managing a law enforcement agency, he was immediately thrust into the role of reinventing a storied law enforcement agency into a national security agency.  This is not the sort of change that happens overnight.  Fortunately, Director Mueller rose to the challenge and changed the face of the FBI for a new age.

The threats our country faces are great and multi-faceted.  Terrorism is an unfortunate reality the FBI must face, in addition to serving as a law enforcement agency and the lead counter-intelligence agency.  The next Director of the FBI must be prepared to continue the transition.  He must also be prepared to manage the FBI through the next challenge.

Despite the successes Director Mueller had in transforming the FBI to deal with national security threats, challenges remain for the next FBI Director.  For example, legacy problems such asdeveloping a working case management computer system, effectively managing agent rotations to the Washington, D.C. headquarters, managing linguists, and dealing with aging infrastructure such as the FBI Headquarters building remain.

Additionally, management concerns remain about the proper personnel balance between special agents and analysts, the perceived double standard of discipline between line agents and management, as well as issues dealing with whistleblower retaliation.  These matters must be addressed as they threaten to undermine the hard work of the employees at the FBI.

The position of FBI Director is unique in that it is a 10-year appointment subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.  This 10-year term was extended two years ago on a one-time only basis.  The extension allowed Director Mueller to serve an additional timeframe as the President failed to nominate a replacement.  At the time we held a special hearing to discuss the importance of a term limit for the FBI Director.  One of the reasons Congress created a 10-year term was to ensure accountability of the FBI.

This confirmation hearing is part of that accountability.  We have a responsibility to ensure the Director will be able to balance the duties of FBI Director against the civil liberties of Americans.

Before us today is the President’s choice for the next FBI Director, James Comey.  Mr. Comey has a distinguished past.  He served as the Senate confirmed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and as the Deputy Attorney General during the Bush Administration.  I would also like to add that he had the smarts to marry an Iowan.

Mr. Comey handled difficult matters that provide a solid basis for the types of matters that may come up as FBI Director.  I had the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Comey yesterday. We talked about his government experience and how it prepares him for the job.

So, today I want to discuss with him his non-governmental employment working for Lockheed Martin, the hedge fund Bridgewater Partners, and his current position on the Board of Directors at HSBC.

Having the balance of public and private sector experience is a good thing. But, I have been openly concerned about the Administration’s failure to prosecute those involved in the financial crisis—including criminal wrongdoing at HSBC.  I want to know whether Mr. Comey can look beyond his affiliations in the private sector and prosecute wrongdoing on Wall Street.

I also want to discuss with Mr. Comey a number of policy matters impacting the Director of the FBI.  First, I continue to have serious concerns with the FBI’s treatment of whistleblowers.

Mr. Comey and I discussed the important role whistleblowers play in bringing transparency and accountability to bureaucracies.  Unfortunately, the FBI has a poor history of retaliating against whistleblowers who come forward and report wrongdoing.

This is particularly concerning in light of the recent leak of classified information.  While not necessarily an FBI matter, the recent leaks have highlighted an issue I have focused on for years, whistleblower protections for national security employees.  National security employees, including many assigned at the FBI, need a protected mechanism to report wrongdoing without fear of retaliation.  I believe a significant number of national security leaks would not have occurred if they had a path forward.

Unfortunately, a provision in the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act that I authored expanding protections to national security employees was cut by the House of Representatives prior to being signed into law.  I continue to believe this is necessary legislation.  I’d like to hear Mr. Comey’s thoughts on whistleblowers, their value, and how he will handle whistleblower complaints.

I’d like an assurance from Mr. Comey that whistleblowers will not face retaliation.  Further, I would like an assurance that the FBI’s policy of pursuing endless appeals against whistleblowers, even when retaliation was found by the Inspector General, will come to an end.

Second, I want to ask Mr. Comey about some recent developments regarding the FBI’s use of drones on U.S soil.

A few weeks ago, we learned from Director Mueller that the FBI was using drones on U.S. soil for surveillance.  While Director Mueller indicated that this was very limited, he also said that policies regarding limitations on drone use were still being developed.  This is very concerning, as policies are of little use if they are developed after the FBI deploys drones on U.S. soil.

Further, the FBI’s use of drones calls into question the thoroughness of a written response I received from Attorney General Holder indicating the use of drones by the DEA and ATF, but only mentioning the FBI in passing.  I want to hear from Mr. Comey what he thinks the proper limits on domestic use of drones should be, whether he would delay their use until final regulations and policies are drafted, and how he would deploy drones for domestic use.

I also want to discuss with Mr. Comey his views on national security and the FBI’s role.  We are all painfully aware of the limitations that were placed on FBI agents prior to 9/11 and the so-called “wall” between intelligence and law enforcement.  Congress and the Executive Branch have been successful in bringing down the walls between intelligence and law enforcement, but concerns expressed in recent years threaten to rebuild these walls.

For example, advocates have opposed information sharing of cybersecurity threat information which could erroneously reconstitute a separation similar to a wall.  I’d like to hear Mr. Comey’s view on national security matters such as cybersecurity, counterterrorism, and counterintelligence.

I also want to discuss some nuts and bolts management matters with Mr. Comey.  Specifically, I want to hear his assurances that he will work cooperatively with Congress and provide forthcoming responses to inquiries.

Congress has a constitutional duty to conduct oversight.  Given the wide discretion the FBI has to conduct investigations, Congress needs to have an open channel to obtain information relevant to our oversight requests.

Finally, I want to discuss some general management issues such as the disciplinary system which has long been criticized for having a double standard for management as opposed to line agents.  Problems like this are dangerous to an agency and need to be managed before future problems arise.

There is a lot of ground to cover and this is an extremely important nomination.

I thank Mr. Comey for his willingness to return to public service. I look forward to a full and candid conversation about these issues.

Thank you.

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