Wilkerson: Nominated FBI Director Is Model of Revolving Door

James Comey will likely be confirmed as the new FBI Director, and his career working for Lockheed Martin and a hedge fund is just another example of the American status quo

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Story Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

President Obama named James Comey as the new FBI director. And on Tuesday he faced a Senate judiciary panel where he was asked about his years under the Bush administration. He stated unequivocally that he rejected the Bush torture programs while he was assistant attorney general. Let’s take a listen to what he had to say.

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JAMES COMEY, NOMINEE FOR FBI DIRECTOR: I went to the attorney general and said, this is wrong, this is awful. You have to go to the White House and force them to stare at this and answer that question. I believe the answer is: we should not be involved in this kind of stuff. And so I made that argument as forcefully as I could to the attorney general. He took my–actually literally took my notes with him to a meeting at the White House and told me he made my argument in full and that the principals were fully on board with the policy, and so my argument was rejected.

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DESVARIEUX: Now joining us is Larry Wilkerson. He was the former chief of staff for U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. And he’s currently an adjunct professor of government at the College of William & Mary. And, of course, he’s a regular contributor to The Real News Network.

Thanks for joining us, Larry.

LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: Thanks for having me on, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: So, Larry, the Senators didn’t challenge Comey too much, and it looks like his appointment as the new FBI director is inevitable. Can you discuss with us, considering that you were both working under the same administration, what Comey was like, some of his policies, what the climate was like at the time that he was working?

WILKERSON: I did not know him personally. I didn’t have a lot of contact with the Justice Department except in very narrow cones, a working group I was involved with in the interagency, for example. I worked with the Justice Department from time to time, but not Mr. Comey.

I will say, though, that during the administration, the first administration, it became quite clear early on that there were, shall I say, few people in the administration, few Republicans, few political appointees who weren’t either on Dick Cheney’s team or Colin Powell’s team, Colin Powell’s team being extremely small and Cheney’s team being vast and across the administration. I don’t think I ever identified either the FBI director at the time (Mueller) or Mr. Comey as being card-carrying members, if you will, of that team. And by that I mean that they were sane and sober people. They were Republicans. They were, like me, conservatives, I assume. But they were sane and sober people.

And as I indicated earlier, I think what we heard in the administration and what my boss and others confirmed for me was that Mr. Mueller and Mr. Comey had been thoroughly courageous in standing up from time to time to what essentially the vice president wanted to do, even to the point where at least superficially they got the president to back off and not to do what he was going to do. Subsequent information came to my knowledge that the president, the vice president, probably the latter, resumed what they were doing that Mr. Comey and FBI Director Mueller had objected to. But that didn’t take away from the fact that they had the courage to essentially say they would walk out if the practice continued.

DESVARIEUX: So let’s talk about his career post-Justice Department, when he did walk out in 2005, but then he went to work for Lockheed Martin, and then afterwards he worked for a hedge fund. What do you make of this?

WILKERSON: This is standard procedure today. You–the revolving door of course goes both ways. You come into government, you get your government bona fides, particularly in the national security field; then you go out and you work for one of the people, one of the institutions, the companies in the national security field, whether defense contractor, intelligence contractor, or whatever, who is going to be plugged into the government, reward you handsomely, sometimes 3 to 6 times as much as you could make in government. And just so your average listener understands what I’m saying, I was making about $142,000, $144,000 something like that in government as an SES, senior executive service member. You walk through that revolving door and you make $600,000 outside with Lockheed or with Raytheon or with Booz Allen Hamilton or some company like that. And then, of course, you shoot right back through the revolving door back into government again.

And you never, never–and anyone who thinks that you do is smoking something–you never sever those contacts. It would be absurd to think that humans who have that much investment in money, in power are going to sever those contacts. Dick Cheney’s saying that he had nothing to do with Halliburton while he was vice president is pure nonsense. Of course he did. Dick Cheney’s net worth went from something around $4 or 5 million to over $70 million. You don’t do that by severing all your contacts. So this is–but this is de rigueur. This is what we do today. This is how America works today.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. And in light of the NSA revelations, what can you tell us about Comey and his view on surveillance programs?

WILKERSON: I think it’d be very difficult–first let me say I can’t say anything about Comey in particular because I don’t know what his views were. But I can say that I think it would be very difficult to have been in government post-9/11 and not been hand-in-glove with the increasing power of the national security state, whether it was in pervasive surveillance, whether it was in detention without due process, whether it was in signature drone strikes, whether it was in assassinations. Any of the things we have had revealed to us, largely by whistleblowers and others, that the national security state has stooped to doing since 9/11, I think it would be very difficult to say anyone in a high-level position in that government, including myself, didn’t have something to do one way or the other, didn’t either condone or participate in some of these programs that we now find, I hope, some of us at least, find more or less reprehensible.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Well, thank you for joining us, Larry.

WILKERSON: Thanks for having me.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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