Amid political storm, FBI chief James Comey says he will serve until 2023

FBI director James Comey speaks during a ceremony to open the new FBI Boston Field Office in Chelsea, Massachusetts, March 7, 2017.
FBI director James Comey speaks during a ceremony to open the new FBI Boston Field Office in Chelsea, Massachusetts, March 7, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - FBI director James Comey said on Wednesday (March 8) he plans to hold his job until 2023, amid a political storm that has made him a target of both US political parties.

Comey's leadership of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been marked by controversy over its investigation into Hillary Clinton's email and President Donald Trump's unsubstantiated accusations that Barack Obama ordered the wiretapping of phones at Trump Tower.

But Comey told a cyber security conference in Boston that he has no plans to step down, three years into his 10-year term at the helm of the powerful law enforcement agency.

"You are stuck with me for another six-and-a-half years," he said.

Any decision on whether Comey stays or goes, would not be his alone, however.

The FBI director is appointed by the president, with confirmation from the Senate, and a president can remove the director, although he would risk accusations of political interference if he were to do so.

Comey has drawn fire - and praise - from both Republicans and Democrats for his high profile performance in cases that have brought him in conflict with powerful political leaders.

In the latest, he is reported to have urged the Justice Department to publicly deny Trump's allegation that his Trump Tower phones were wiretapped during the campaign on Obama's orders.

Trump offered no evidence to back up his claim, made in an explosive series of tweets over the weekend.

Trump implied that the FBI - which is responsible for domestic crime and security investigations - was part of an Obama-directed political operation against the New York billionaire.

"How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process," Trump wrote in one of the tweets early on Saturday.

Media reports said the Justice Department has declined to speak out for the FBI, leaving the president's claim unanswered.

Comey did not address the issue in his speech at Boston College.

At least one powerful committee in Congress has said it will probe Trump's charges along with the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Comey also was at the center of a separate controversy involving Clinton's use of a private server to send and receive emails while serving as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.

After a lengthy investigation, Comey announced in July he would not recommend that charges be brought against Clinton.

But just 11 days before the November 8 election, Comey alerted Congress that the FBI was reopening the probe after a new batch of email surfaced. Then two days before the vote, he said nothing incriminating had been found.

Clinton and her supporters complained bitterly that Comey's public intervention halted her momentum late in the campaign, costing her the election.