Comey rips media for 'dead wrong' Russia stories

Comey rips media for 'dead wrong' Russia stories
© Greg Nash

Former FBI Director James Comey repeatedly warned Thursday that news reports based on leaks of classified information pertaining to the Russia investigation have been consistently wrong.

In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Community, Comey said stories about Russia that are based on classified leaks have been a persistent problem for the FBI because news organizations have often received bad information.

“There have been many, many stories based on — well, lots of stuff, but about Russia that are dead wrong,” Comey said.

Sen. Tom CottonTom CottonSenate rejects ObamaCare repeal, replacement amendment Live coverage: Senate begins debate on ObamaCare repeal If our innovators have no reward, how will America compete? MORE (R-Ark.) asked the former FBI director about a bombshell New York Times report from Feb. 14 titled “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence.” 

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“Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials,” the Times wrote.

Cotton asked Comey if that story was “almost entirely wrong,” and Comey said that it was.

The Times has run one meaningful correction to that report, saying it overstated the number of people whom the FBI has examined. The Times report did note, however, that so far intelligence officials had seen no evidence of "cooperation” between the Trump campaign and Russia.

“But the intercepts alarmed American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in part because of the amount of contact that was occurring while Mr. Trump was speaking glowingly about the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin,” the Times wrote.

"In the main it was not true," Comey said.

But in an analysis of Comey's comments on Thursday evening, the Times argued that sources cited in the Feb. 14 article have vouched for the account put forth, though the newspaper's reporters were not able to contact them immediately after Comey's testimony.

The analysis raises the possibility that Comey could have been disputing the article's characterization of Russian intelligence officials.

Another possibility, according to the Times, is that Comey may have disputed with the newspaper's description of the evidence as "phone records and intercepted calls."

Comey said incorrect reports are frustrating because the FBI’s policy is not to comment on the media's coverage of its investigations.

“The challenge — and I’m not picking on reporters — about writing stories about classified information, is the people talking about it often don’t really know what’s going on, and those of us who actually know what’s going on are not talking about it,” Comey said. “We don’t call the press and say, ‘Hey, you got that thing wrong.’ ”

Trump has repeatedly railed against “fake news” and the media’s reliance on unnamed sources.

CNN this week had to issue a correction after it reported that Comey would testify that he never told Trump that he wasn't the target of an investigation. 

In his opening remarks, Comey confirmed that he told Trump three times he was not personally the target of an FBI investigation.