FBI Director James Comey on Wednesday offered a vigorous defense of his controversial decision to tell Congress that he was reopening the agency’s investigation into 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Comey said he confronted a difficult choice when his investigators told him they had discovered thousands of emails from Clinton on the laptop computer of former Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner.
“I could see two doors, and they were both actions. One was labeled ‘Speak,’ and the other was labeled ‘Conceal.'”
“I sat there that morning and I could not see a door labeled, ‘No Action,'” he said. “I could see two doors, and they were both actions. One was labeled ‘Speak,’ and the other was labeled ‘Conceal.'”
Comey acknowledged that informing Congress just 11 days before the presidential election was bad. But he added that sitting on that information would have been worse had it later turned out that Weiner’s laptop contained incriminating information.
“Concealing in my view would be catastrophic, not just to the FBI but well beyond,” he said, recalling conversations with his investigative team at the FBI. “And honestly, as between really bad and catastrophic, I said to my team, ‘We’ve got to walk into the world of really bad. I’ve got to tell Congress we’re restarting this.’ Not in some frivolous way. In a hugely significant way.”
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Comey said his investigators worked day and night to review thousands of emails — including some containing classified information — that Clinton aide Huma Abedin had forwarded to Weiner, who was her husband. He said they were able to conclude, before Election Day, that none of the emails altered his original judgment that Clinton did not commit a crime when she was secretary of state.
Comey’s testimony comes a day after Clinton blamed him in part for costing her the election. Democrats on the Judiciary Committee expressed frustration over his actions.
“You took an enormous gamble,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee’s ranking minority member. “The gamble is that there was something there that would invalidate her candidacy. There wasn’t.”
Comey said he and his team discussed whether informing Congress would help Republican candidate Donald Trump. He said the possibility made him “mildly nauseous,” but he added he would make the same decision again.
“I can’t consider for a second whose political fortunes would be affected,” he said.
Comey said the Weiner computer appeared to contain emails from early in Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state.
“What they could see from the metadata was that there were thousands of emails from Secretary Clinton on the device, including what they thought might be the missing emails from her first three months as secretary of state,” he said. “We never found emails from her first three months. She was using a Verizon Blackberry then.”
Comey added, “That’s obviously very important, because if there was evidence that she was acting with bad intent, that’s where they would be.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked why no one has been prosecuted over the classified information Weiner had.
“Somebody should be prosecuted for letting Anthony Weiner have access to classified information,” he said. “Does that make general sense?”
Comey responded that it could be a crime.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked Comey why it was proper to talk about the Clinton investigation days before the election but not about a probe that he since has confirmed into possible coordination between Russia and associates of Trump during the campaign.
“I treated both investigations consistently under the same principles,” he said.
Comey said he did not even confirm the Clinton investigation until it had been going on for months and then kept quiet until he announced it was over. He said he is treating the Trump-Russia probe the same way.
“I would suspect we’re not going to say another peep about it until we are done,” he said.
Oddly, Comey appeared to have a double standard when it comes to the issue of leaks. He denied that he ever has been an anonymous source in a news story about Trump or Clinton investigations or authorized an agent to speak anonymously. He declined to talk about a possible probe into leaks of classified information involving Trump or his associates.
Comey told Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) that he could not confirm that.
But Comey suggested to Leahy that he was looking into whether his agents improperly talked to former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani or former FBI assistant director James Kallstrom.
“I don’t know yet,” he said when asked if those conversations had taken place. “But if I find out that people were leaking information about our investigation, either to reporters or to third parties, there will be severe consequences.”