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The announcement came late on the afternoon of Oct. 3, and it surprised few people: “The President intends to nominate James B. Comey, of New York, to be Deputy Attorney General at the Department of Justice.” Currently U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, 42-year-old James Comey Jr. had been the popular favorite to fill the role left vacant by Larry Thompson’s August departure, described by one former top-ranking DOJ official as “the obvious choice.” His impending nomination comes as the Justice Department is experiencing a steady exodus of senior officials — accentuating the need for seasoned leadership at the highest echelons. Perhaps no recent development has highlighted that leadership gap as much as the department’s launch of a criminal probe into alleged leaks from senior Bush administration officials — an investigation Comey could find himself supervising if calls for Attorney General John Ashcroft to recuse himself gain support. Former Criminal Division Chief of Staff Michael Horowitz, a partner in the D.C. office of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, says recent scrutiny of the Justice Department may have increased pressure on the administration to fill the No. 2 slot. “I’m guessing this was a high-priority issue anyway, but it does signal the importance of having someone in that job,” Horowitz says. “If the AG decides to recuse himself, it would be preferable to have a confirmed deputy.” Even without the high-profile leak investigation, the job Comey inherits is vast. Many compare the duties of a deputy attorney general — or DAG, as the job is known within the Justice Department — to that of a corporate chief operating officer. The DAG is the person who keeps the department running smoothly, while also shaping policy and acting as a liaison between Main Justice and the field. In addition, the DAG oversees the Criminal Division, the 94 U.S. attorney’s offices, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the U.S. Marshals Service. As deputy, Thompson drove the Justice Department’s sweeping counterterrorism initiatives and coordinated law enforcement efforts to combat corporate crime. Comey brings substantial expertise in both areas, says Latham & Watkins partner Alice Fisher, who worked closely with Comey when she was a top official in the Criminal Division. “He’s a fabulous attorney with enormous criminal experience. I think he’ll do a great job,” Fisher says. Comey also has ample talent for peacemaking. It was Comey who smoothed the relationship between the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of Virginia in the anxious days immediately following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Prosecutors who were accustomed to jousting for position suddenly had to work together and under the direst of circumstances. But working out differences between two different U.S. attorney’s offices under the auspices of Main Justice is one thing. Working out conflicts between different arms of the federal government — or avoiding them altogether — is something else again. “Working in the field is a fundamentally different thing than having to exist in the Washington fishbowl,” said former DAG and Acting Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. when Comey’s name came up as a possible deputy attorney general. Adds a former DAG staffer: “Traditionally, the DAG is the person who is going to fight for the role of the Justice Department vis-à-vis other agencies in government and vis-à-vis the White House. This is where you want fights to be resolved so they don’t reach the attorney general. Basically, you’re insulating the attorney general from shitstorms.” In a December 2002 interview with Legal Times, when reviewing Thompson’s performance in the job, Comey described the DAG’s need to be both diplomat and manager. “Larry has the right mix of deferring to people who know what they’re doing to handle the details, but always being in the loop and ready to step in and make crunch-time decisions.” Comey also seemed to recognize the managerial pitfalls of the role: “There’s a risk you could strike the wrong balance by being too involved and micromanaging cases or the opposite, being a figurehead. The reason I think Larry is amazing is I think he has struck the balance just right.” NORTHEAST CORRIDOR Comey, a 6-foot-8-inch father of five, seems to have spent his life toggling between New York and Virginia. Raised in the New York suburbs, he went to the College of William and Mary in Virginia. After graduating from the University of Chicago Law School, Comey joined the ranks of assistant U.S. attorneys in the Southern District of New York under then-U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani. It was there that he worked closely with Patrick Fitzgerald, now U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois and among those whose names were floated for the DAG job. “Jim is just a great person to be in that position because he knows his stuff and because he’s great with people,” says Fitzgerald. “You can expect that one of his big tasks will be to help shape policy with the attorney general. He has to communicate those policies to the field while at the same time, he has to listen to the field and make sure that policies are made that meet the needs of the field. He has to be a listener and a communicator and Jim is great at both.” In 1993, Comey and his family moved to Richmond, Va., where he joined McGuireWoods as an associate, becoming partner two years later. But Comey is an inveterate prosecutor. He applied for an assistant U.S. attorney job in the Eastern District of Virginia and, in 1996, then-U.S. Attorney Helen Fahey hired him to run the Richmond division. She soon made him executive assistant U.S. attorney. “The office was very productive under his supervision,” Fahey says. “With a relatively small staff, they did a large number of very significant cases, especially violent crime cases.” It was during Comey’s tenure in Richmond that Project Exile was launched. In 1996, Richmond had the third-highest murder rate in the country. Local law enforcement and federal and local prosecutors sat down to figure out a way to mitigate the problem. They decided that every felon caught with a gun would be channeled to the federal system, where that offense carries a five-year sentence. In 1999, two years after starting Project Exile, Richmond’s murder rate had decreased by almost half. The Justice Department has been implementing the program nationwide under the name Project Safe Neighborhoods. As head of the Richmond division, Comey “did an outstanding job. He was an excellent adviser. His legal abilities are exceptional. And his interpersonal skills are extraordinary,” Fahey says. Comey was made chief prosecutor in the Southern District of New York in January 2002. Since then, his office has indicted a dizzying number of corporate titans on criminal charges, including lifestyle doyenne Martha Stewart and ImClone Systems founder Sam Waksal, as well as a host of other executives from one-time Wall Street darlings such as WorldCom and Adelphia. And Comey has continued to maintain a leading role in the ongoing terrorism probe. CHANGES AT THE TOP At Main Justice, Thompson’s resignation in August marked the latest in a slew of high-level departures. In June, former Criminal Chief Michael Chertoff was confirmed to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. Both Thompson and Chertoff had previously served as U.S. attorneys and were highly respected within the department. Other senior DOJ officials to have left the administration in recent months include Assistant Attorney General for Legal Policy Viet Dinh; Assistant AG for Civil Rights Ralph Boyd Jr.; and Public Affairs Director Barbara Comstock. Administration insiders say such departures are typical as the final year before a presidential election approaches. With just one year left in the presidential term, finding a replacement — especially one familiar with the department’s priorities and willing to take on the pressure of an impending election — was not easy. That the administration has convinced someone of Comey’s caliber to step down from what has traditionally been known as the most prestigious and powerful U.S. Attorney’s Office in the country indicates how much power the deputy attorney general wields. “You need someone in that job that has the personal skills to solve problems within the department and deal with other agencies within the administration,” says former DOJ official Horowitz. “I think people thought very highly of Larry Thompson in that regard. And Jim is someone who will bring that to the job as well.” Says Comey’s former colleague Fitzgerald: “People who know Jim respect him and admire him. I think prosecutors throughout the Department of Justice, whether in Washington or in the field, should be delighted that the administration has picked so wisely.”

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