Comey sits with critics at ceremony for late colleague

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  • The ceremony came amid a political controversy roiling the department
  • There was no mention of the current controversies

Washington (CNN)FBI Director James Comey sat in the Justice Department's Great Hall on Tuesday, a few seats away from some of his harshest critics in recent days.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Comey joined past and present senior Justice Department leaders at a memorial ceremony for David Margolis, a beloved former prosecutor whose career spanned some of the toughest periods of the department.
    The ceremony came amid a political controversy roiling the department and the FBI over the handling of the Hillary Clinton email server investigation.
    It would be times like this that Margolis, a fierce defender of the Justice Department, would play key roles to help lead efforts to protect the department from political tempests.
    Tuesday was the first time Comey was in the same room as some of his critics, including former Attorneys General Eric Holder and Michael Mukasey, and former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, who sat across the aisle far opposite from Comey.
    Several of the former prosecutors who, along with Holder and Gorelick, recently signed a letter criticizing Comey were also in the room.
    There was no mention of the current controversies, and Comey didn't respond to reporters' questions after the ceremony.
    But Comey, Lynch and several of the other speakers mentioned the department's ideals of pursuing the rule of law no matter which political party is in power.
    "We feel his absence in these hallways every day," Lynch told the audience in speaking about Margolis.
    Before and after the ceremony, the current controversy was discussed only on oblique terms.
    Many in the room were veterans of the Bush administration, including some who helped manage the department's most serious and damaging crisis in recent years: the controversy over the firings of US attorneys. Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who was forced to resign in that scandal, didn't attend.