When FBI Director James Comey announced Tuesday that Hillary Clinton wouldn’t be charged for sharing classified emails on her private server, many wondered if she was getting preferential treatment from the FBI. Some raised questions about Comey’s interpretation or perhaps even evasion of the law.
This wasn’t the first time his legal judgment has been questioned.
In 2013, Senator Rand Paul single-handedly held up Comey’s entire confirmation process, demanding the FBI answer a question about drones and warrantless surveillance.
Paul wanted to know if the government had used drone to surveil citizens without a warrant. The senator would not let Comey’s confirmation proceed until the FBI answered his questions.
The FBI responded that it had carried out exactly ten of the types of surveillance missions Paul was concerned about, explaining that in their view, the Fourth Amendment did not apply in those missions’ circumstances.
“I disagree with this interpretation,” Paul said. “However, given the fact that they did respond to my concerns over drone use on U.S. soil, I have decided to release my hold on the pending FBI director nominee.”
Vice’s Grace Wyler wondered about the questions Paul had raised in a story titled “What the FBI’s Letter to Rand Paul Says About the Bureau’s Domestic Drone Use”:
Like most explanations of the government’s drone policies, the letter raises more questions than it answers, namely: How many times did the FBI fly drones in each of these cases? For how long? What information was gathered from these drone flights? What kind of drones did its agents use, with what kind of cameras? And why were drones, rather than regular old manned aircraft, used in these cases?
Presumably, some of these questions are answered in the classified addendum provided to Sen. Paul. But for now, the public still knows relatively little about how, why or when the FBI uses drones.
“One thing we do know, however, is that the FBI doesn’t need a warrant to use drones for domestic surveillance,” Wyler also noted.
Some wondered if the senator famous for filibustering over civil liberties would filibuster Comey too. He didn’t.
The U.S. Senate voted to confirm Comey as FBI director on July 29, 2013. The vote was 93-1.
Rand Paul voted “no.”
Disclosure: I co-authored Senator Rand Paul’s 2011 book, “The Tea Party Goes to Washington.”