Five takeaways from Comey’s testimony
FBI Director James Comey delivered passionate and defiant testimony before a Senate panel on Wednesdaythat managed to frustrate both Republicans and Democrats.
The four-hour appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee was supposed to be about general oversight of the FBI, but it quickly turned into a fierce relitigation of the 2016 presidential election.
Here are five takeaways from Comey’s testimony:
1. Comey isn’t sorry
The FBI chief indicated he did not regret sending a letter to lawmakers 11 days before the Nov. 8 election revealing the bureau had found new evidence possibly related to its investigation involving Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
GOP lawmakers immediately made the letter public, thrusting questions about Clinton’s use of a private email server while serving as secretary of State into the spotlight in the campaign’s final days.
Democrats have accused Comey of employing a double standard by publicly discussing the Clinton investigation while remaining silent about a separate probe underway into possible ties between Russia and then-GOP nominee Donald Trump.
Clinton on Tuesday directly blamed Comey’s letter for contributing to her loss, saying otherwise she was “on the way to winning.”
The FBI director said Wednesday he felt “mildly nauseous” at the notion the bureau’s conduct may have influenced the outcome of the election, but he insisted he “wouldn’t have done it any differently.”
Comey said that because he had already told lawmakers that the Clinton probe was complete, restarting the investigation in such a “hugely significant way” without alerting Congress would be “catastrophic.”
He was silent on the Trump investigation, he said, because at the time of the election, it was in its very early stages. The bureau opened that probe in July.
2. Emotions over the election are still raw
Both Republicans and Democrats on Wednesday peppered Comey with questions about his handling of the investigations.
Democrats repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with Comey’s reason for providing such transparency with the Clinton probe while staying mum on the Trump campaign probe.
“It’s still very unclear — and I hope, director, that you will clear this up — why the FBI’s treatment of these two investigations was so dramatically different,” said Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the committee’s top Democrat.
Meanwhile, Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) opened the hearing with a litany of criticisms of the bureau’s handling of the investigation into Clinton’s email server, accusing it of failing to follow up on “credible evidence of intent to hide federal records from Congress and the public” in its “haste to end a tough, politically charged investigation.”
“A cloud of doubt hangs over the FBI’s objectivity,” Grassley told a packed hearing room.
3. Comey explains DOJ dynamic: ‘I hope someday you’ll understand’
Comey has long been seen as a maverick.
When he announced in July 2016 that the bureau had finished its Clinton investigation — calling the former secretary of State “extremely careless” in his summary — Comey informed then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch only that morning.
But on Wednesday, Comey repeatedly struck a conciliatory tone toward the Justice Department as a whole. He declined to answer many questions, saying he had not been authorized to do so.
That deference follows on the careful wording of his March announcement that the bureau was investigating the Trump campaign, an announcement he emphasized at the time was approved by the Justice Department.
He also gave some insight into his own personal conflict on the morning of the explosive July press conference where he announced that he wouldn’t recommend criminal charges against Clinton.
“That was a hard call for me to make — to call the attorney general that morning and say, ‘I’m about to do a press conference, and I’m not going to tell you what I’m going to say,'” he told lawmakers.
“I said to her, ‘I hope someday you’ll understand why I think I have to do this.’ But look, I wasn’t loving this.”
At the time, Comey said, he believed that Lynch’s highly publicized meeting with former President Bill Clinton had undermined the public’s faith in the integrity of the investigation.
“Her meeting with President Clinton … was the capper for me,” he said. “And I then said, you know what, the department cannot by itself credibly end this.”
4. The FBI may be investigating internal leaks
Comey seemed to obliquely confirm Wednesday that the bureau is conducting an internal investigation into whether FBI officials inappropriately leaked information about the Clinton probe during the campaign to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), an ally of Trump’s.
Asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) about Giuliani’s public claims that agents were talking to him, Comey replied, “I don’t know yet, but there will be severe consequences if people were leaking.”
He went on to refer to it as “a matter FBI is looking into.”
5. Trump, Clinton investigations are dominating FBI oversight
Comey’s own conduct leading up to the election dominated Wednesday’s hearing, though some lawmakers pressed him to describe the value of a foreign surveillance law used by the FBI that expires at the end of the year.
Comey openly discussed the Justice Department inspector general (IG) probe into his handling of the Clinton investigation.
The IG has already interviewed him and likely will again, Comey said, insisting that he welcomes the scrutiny.
“If I did something wrong, I want to hear that,” he said, calling the choices he has made “painful.”
“I think I’ve done the right thing at each turn,” he added.