Quora: Why Did Obama Appoint a GOP FBI Head?

Former FBI Director James Comey testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Capitol Hill, on June 8. Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

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Answer from Ross Cohen, B.A. in History and Political Science:

Nearly twenty million people tuned-in to watch the much anticipated Senate testimony of former FBI Director James Comey. The abrupt firing has clearly captured America's attention and intensified concerns about the man living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but it's also raised an interesting question about the building's previous resident.

James Comey was a Republican when he was tapped to lead the FBI three years ago, but the president who appointed him was not. Given the hyper-partisan times we live in, it's only natural to wonder why. Why would Barack Obama, a Democratic president who could've easily selected a Democrat for the vitally important position of FBI Director, choose a Republican?

There were two main reasons.

For one, President Obama liked to be bipartisan as often as he could. He either appointed, or tried to appoint, an unusually high number of Republicans in his administration (e.g. Chuck Hagel, Bob Gates, Judd Gregg, Jon Huntsman, Ray LaHood, Ben Bernanke, David Petraeus, Robert McDonald, John McHugh, Michael Donley, etc.)

Second, choosing Comey fit Obama's pattern. President Obama liked to hire people with a history of demonstrating high integrity and political courage under trying circumstances, who showed they can speak truth to power and stand up for what is right. Remember, President Obama was succeeding a Bush administration that had overseen some dark chapters. Within those dark chapters, there were occasionally some courageous souls who stood up to withering pressure on behalf of truth and justice. Yes, it sounds hokey but examples of each to follow.

Take General Eric Shinseki as an example of standing up for truth when it really mattered. He was Army Chief of Staff when the Bush administration was trying to sell the country on going to war in Iraq. As part of the pitch, they used overly optimistic lowball estimates of the number of troops that would be required for post-war Iraq. General Shinseki refused to go along with them and publicly testified that actually hundreds of thousands of troops would be required, not the rosy estimates pushed by his bosses, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. History later vindicated him, but not before being heavily criticized by the Bush team and reportedly marginalized before his early retirement (which supposedly had already been in the works). President Obama called him back to public service and appointed him to his cabinet, further repudiating his mistreatment and rewarding his fidelity to the country.

Comey had a similar story of standing up to the Bush administration's efforts to renew what he and others believed to be an illegal program. In a now famous incident, he raced to the hospital to support the weak, bedridden Attorney General against the administration's pressure and even threatened to resign over it. He too was vindicated by history and the incident showed a man of high integrity and political courage, able to stand up to presidents on behalf of the Constitution.

Combining those two reasons, the FBI is supposed to be non-partisan, so a Democrat appointing a Republican to lead it really drives that home. It's a ten year term for that reason, to partially insulate the FBI Director from politics and ensure that they outlast and overlap the terms of presidents.

After the Comey-Clinton election fiasco, it's possible Obama regretted his choice, but he's never said so. Putting that aside, it seems quite likely that last week Obama was proud he selected someone of such integrity and backbone (not to mention a meticulous note-taker).

Why did Barack Obama appoint a Republican to head the FBI? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions: