FBI Director James Comey on Wednesday defended his decision to tell Congress in October that he was revisiting the bureau’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Comey said he believed revisiting the investigation just before the election — knowing it could affect the outcome — would be really bad, but that not to do so would be catastrophic for the agency’s independence. In retrospect, he said, he still believes he made the right choice.
“Look, this was terrible. It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election. But honestly, it wouldn’t change the decision,” he said.
Comey’s remarks were his first public comment on his decision to reopen the Clinton email investigation, which came after FBI agents discovered new communications connected to the former secretary of state’s private server. Comey’s letter to congressional leaders informing them of the action was immediately leaked, and Clinton says it contributed to her loss on Election Day.
Wednesday’s testimony by Comey came during what was intended to be a routine oversight hearing of the FBI, but was instead dominated by questions relating to investigations surrounding the 2016 campaign.
Senators also asked Comey about Russia. He said Russia represents “the greatest threat of any nation on Earth, given their intention and capability.”
He insisted that the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and the possible links between Trump campaign and Russian officials are being treated “consistently under the same principles” as the Clinton email probe. He said the bureau “didn’t say a word” about the Russia-Trump probe “until months into it,” and that he expects “we’re not gonna say another peep about it until we’re done.” He insisted that was the way the bureau handled the Clinton investigation as well.
The repercussions from Comey’s action continue to reverberate across the political spectrum. At a forum in New York on Tuesday, Clinton said Comey’s letter to Congress on Oct. 28 was a factor in her loss to President Trump. “If the election had been on Oct. 27, I would be your president,” she said, while also putting responsibility for her loss on her own actions.
Trump tweeted later Tuesday night that Comey “was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds.”
FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds! The phony…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2017
Comey said being in the middle of — if not creating — a political firestorm has taken a toll. “Lordy, has this been painful,” he told committee members. “I’ve gotten all kinds of rocks thrown at me, and this has been really hard, but I think I’ve done the right thing at each turn.”
Comey also disclosed that he has been interviewed by the Justice Department’s Inspector General Office, which is conducing its own investigation into how the FBI handled the Clinton email probe. Comey said he welcomed the review.
Comey was asked if he was looking into whether FBI agents may have leaked information about the Clinton investigation. Trump adviser and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said former agents had told him in advance of the reopening of the Clinton email investigation. Comey said if he finds out people leaked information about FBI investigations, “there will be severe consequences.”
He was also asked the difference between journalism, protected under the first amendment, and WikiLeaks. Comey said that to his mind, “it crosses a line when it moves from being about trying to educate a public and instead just becomes about intelligence porn, frankly, just pushing out information about sources and methods without regard to interests.”