William & Mary

James Comey, '82, Featured

James Comey, class of 1982, and former Deputy Attorney General, was featured in a recent item in the Washington Post. In March 2004, Attorney General John Ashcroft was seriously ill in the hospital when people working for Vice President Dick Cheney tried to get him to sign a directive to renew the domestic surveillance policy. Deputy Attorney General James Comey rushed to the hospital, prepared to say No on behalf of Mr. Ashcroft. But Ashcroft was conscious and himself refused to sign the document, saying that he should never have approved the original policy.

Nonetheless, President Bush signed the directive on March 11, 2004.

When James Comey heard the news, he wrote a letter of resignation. At a briefing in the White House soon after that, President Bush called Comey aside to try to get him to withdraw his resignation.

Excerpt from the Washington Post article:

"You don't look well," Bush began.

Oldest trick in the book. Establish dominance, put the other guy off his game.

"Well, I feel okay."

"I'm worried about you. You look burdened."

"I am, Mr. President. I feel like there's a tremendous burden on me."

"Let me lift that burden from your shoulders," Bush said. "Let me be the one who makes the decision here."

"Mr. President, I would love to be able to do that."

Bush's tone grew crisp. "I decide what the law is for the executive branch," he said.

"That's absolutely true, sir, you do. But I decide what the Department of Justice can certify to and can't certify to, and despite my absolute best efforts, I simply cannot in the circumstances."

Comey had majored in religion, William and Mary Class of 1982. He might have made a connection with Bush if he had quoted a verse from Scripture. The line that came to him belonged to a 16th-century theologian who defied an emperor.

"As Martin Luther said, 'Here I stand; I can do no other,' " Comey said. "I've got to tell you, Mr. President, that's where I am."