Obama's GOP FBI Pick a Folk Hero for Democrats

But what also makes Comey's pick as FBI director a potentially smart move for Obama is that another major character in the hospital bed saga was the FBI's current Director Bob Mueller. Mueller also rushed to Ashcroft's bedside with Comey that night and the two men threatened to resign over the surveillance program kerfuffle. Back in 2007, Comey called Mueller "one of the finest people I've ever met."

Mueller, who was nominated to lead the FBI by President George W. Bush in 2001, enjoys bi-partisan support in Congress. And President Obama liked him so much that he asked Congress to waive the FBI director's 10-year term limit to let Mueller serve an additional two years.

Comey is also as close to an insider at the FBI as a relative outsider could be.

As a former U.S. attorney who worked on terrorism, corruption, and organized crime cases in the 1990s, Comey has a history of working closely with FBI agents.

If anything, he already has their trust, said Tim Murphy, the former deputy director of the FBI, who is now a vice president at MacAndrews & Forbes.

"From FBI agents that I've spoken to, everybody is pleased that you have someone who has the law enforcement credentials – who was over at the Justice Department," Murphy told ABC News. "The integrity of Comey is pretty much unmatched with the exception of Director Mueller."

Since leaving the Bush administration in 2005, Comey shuffled to the private sector working at Lockheed Martin, then the investment management firm Bridgewater Associates, then into academia at Columbia University Law School.

And in that time, the fight against terrorism, and the FBI's role in that fight, has changed tremendously, Murphy said.

"The terror threat is changing rapidly," said Murphy, who was deputy director at the FBI from 2010 to 2011. "My biggest concern is that he's got to get on that from day one. The terror threat has gone from identified al Qaeda members to today where it's an unknown threat."

"These decisions are going to come at him fast and furious," Murphy said.

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