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Trump’s pick for FBI director shuns the spotlight. So why does he want the most fraught job in Washington?


IN MARCH 2014, Attorney General John Ashcroft fell ill with pancreatitis the week before he was supposed to renew a domestic surveillance program called Stellar Wind. He was taken to the intensive care unit at George Washington University Hospital, and James Comey, then his deputy, became acting attorney general. As the deadline to renew the program approached, Comey told the White House he wouldn’t approve it because he was concerned it was illegal.

On March 10, the night before the renewal deadline, Comey was driving home when Ashcroft’s chief of staff called and said two aides of President George W. Bush were on their way to speak with Ashcroft. Comey raced to the hospital and “ran up the stairs with my security detail,” he later testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. As Comey waited with the bedridden Ashcroft, Bush’s aides entered and said they wanted approval for the program. According to Comey’s testimony, Ashcroft then pointed to Comey and said, “I’m not the attorney general. There is the attorney general.” The aides left.

The next day, Bush reauthorized the program without Comey’s signature, prompting Comey to prepare a letter of resignation—as did Robert Mueller, who was FBI director at the time. The two officials ended up convincing Bush to pursue the program in a way they believed was legal, and the incident became a career highlight for Comey and Mueller.

But there was another Justice Department official who offered to resign alongside Comey and Mueller. As those two were drafting resignation letters, Christopher Wray, then the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s criminal division, pulled Comey aside in a hallway at the agency’s headquarters and told him, “Look, I don’t know what’s going on, but before you guys all pull the ripcords, please give me a heads-up so I can jump with you,” according to The Threat Matrix, a 2011 book about Mueller’s FBI.

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CANCER REBELS For this year's Special Health Issue, we've focused on the Cancer Rebels, the women, men and children who ignore the rules and scorn the conventions that surround cancer, and who refuse to succumb to the disease. These are the people who find vitality in taking on cancer from unexpected directions.