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James Comey, President Obama's reported pick to head the FBI, is a Republican. But he's most known for being a vocal dissenter working as the deputy attorney general during the Bush administration. In one dramatic incident when President George W. Bush was seeking re-approval of the wiretapping program, Comey stonewalled the administration at the hospital bedside of Attorney General John Ashcroft. "I was angry," Comey testified about the incident. "I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man who did not have the powers of the attorney general."

But that was not the only time he spoke out against the executive.

In 2005, the Justice Department was compiling a legal memo on "enhanced interrogation" (which some would call torture). And Comey wasn't happy with it — at all. In e-mails with his then-Chief of Staff Chuck Rosenberg, he voiced strongly worded dissent that the administration would come to regret its push to allow these techniques to continue.

In 2009, The New York Times obtained the e-mails. Below are selections. Read the whole chain of e-mails at The New York Times:

The AG [Attorney General] explained that he was under great pressure from the Vice President [Dick Cheney] to complete both memos, and that the President had even raised it last week ...

Yesterday morning, I got the most recent draft of the second opinion and read it. My concerns were not allayed, only heightened. Patrick [a Justice Department lawyer] felt just as strongly that this was wrong....

I told [Alberto Gonzales's chief of staff] that the people who were applying pressure now would not be there when the ___ hit the fan. Rather, they would simply say they had only asked for an opinion. It would be Alberto Gonzales in the bullseye. I told him that my job was to protect the Departmwnt [sic] and the AG and that I could not agree to this because it was wrong. I told him it could be made right in a week, which was a blink of an eye, and that nobody would understand at a hearing three years from now why we didn't take that week....

... It leaves me feeling sad for the Department and the AG. I don't know what more is to be done, given that I have already submitted my resignation. I just hope that when all of this comes out, this institution doesn't take the hit, but rather taken by those individuals who occupied positions at the OLC [The Office of Legal Counsel] and OAG and were too weak to stand up for the principles that undrgird [sic] the rest of this great institution....

People may think it strange to hear me say I miss John Ashcroft, but as intimidated as he could be by the WH, when it came to crunch-time, he stood up, even from an intensive care hospital bed. That backbone is gone.

h/t: Matt Berman contributed to this article

This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.

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