When WTOP’s Joan Jones asked former FBI Director James Comey on Wednesday if the “smashing of cellphones and destruction of thousands of emails” during the investigation into Hillary Clinton was “obstruction of justice,” Comey said that he had never been asked that question before.
“You have raised the specter of obstruction of justice charges with the president of the United States,” Jones said to Comey concerning his new book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership.” The book was released earlier this week.
“Some are asking, though, ‘Why wouldn’t smashing of cellphones and destruction of thousands of emails during an investigation clearly be obstruction of justice?'” Jones asked Comey.
Comey replied, “Now that’s a great question. That’s the first time I’ve been asked that.”
Former 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton used a private email server to conduct official business while serving as secretary of state. When the FBI released its report of its investigation into Clinton’s conduct in September 2016, it was revealed that her aides destroyed two mobile devices “by breaking them in half or hitting them with a hammer” and deleting emails using BleachBit. The revelations caused an uproar in Congress and on the campaign trail.
Comey has been asked whether he believed President Donald Trump committed “obstruction of justice” by firing him in May 2017 or by asking him about the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
The former FBI director told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on Sunday that he believed Trump “possibly” obstructed justice, arguing that “certainly” there was “some evidence of obstruction of justice.”
Although mainstream media outlets, liberal pundits, and lawmakers have been obsessing over possible obstruction of justice charges and anticipating impeachment for Trump as a result, these same individuals showed a marked lack of interest in whether or not Clinton and her team obstructed justice.
“And the answer is, it would depend upon what the intent of the people doing it was,” Comey said. “It’s the reason I can’t say when people ask me, ‘Did Donald Trump committee obstruction of justice?’ My answer is, ‘I don’t know. It could be. It would depend upon, is there evidence to establish that he took actions with corrupt intent?'”
“So if you smash a cellphone, lots of people smash their cellphones so they’re not resold on the secondary market and your personal stuff ends up in somebody else’s hands,” Comey continued. “But if you smash your cellphone knowing that investigators want it and that they’ve got a subpoena for it, for example, that is a different thing and can be obstruction of justice.”
Jones followed up, asking, “The law requires intent?”
“Yes. It requires not just intent, but the prosecutors demonstrate corrupt intent, which is a special kind of intent that you were taking actions with the intention of defeating and obstructing an investigation you knew was going on,” Comey replied.
As Comey has been embarking on his tour and touting his book over the past several days, many interviewers focused on his negative impressions of Trump and whether he believed obstruction of justice charges would be coming. But WTOP’s Jones and Bruce Alan asked Comey some tough questions about himself and his own conduct.
Alan noted that some critiques of the book allege that Comey “took some cheap shots” at the president and “sort of ceded some of the high ground you may have had.” Comey defended his book and his actions.
“I care about the public’s trust. I don’t care about politics.”
Noting that Comey had been largely viewed as a “professional” without overt political biases prior to his conduct during the 2016 election, Alan asked whether Comey felt “like you’ve now undercut that image a bit?”
“I hope not. I think the actions I had to take before the election made everybody hate me on both wings of our partisan divide,” Comey replied. “And I hope that’s some indication that I’m not acting in a political way. I care about the public’s trust. I don’t care about politics. And I really appreciate these good questions.”