“Would you speak or would you conceal?” FBI director James Comey challenged the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning. Comey testified as part of the SJC probe into undue outside influence in the 2016 election, with Comey already singled out as one of those influences by none other than Hillary Clinton this week. Comey told the committee that the idea of having influenced the election at all makes him “mildly nauseous,” but that he had little choice but to inform Congress when circumstances forced the FBI to take a second look at the e-mail investigation:
FBI Director Comey: “It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might’ve had some impact on the election” https://t.co/BsBQ56fGpV
— NBC News (@NBCNews) May 3, 2017
It came down to “speak” or “conceal,” Comey said. “Speak,” he reasoned, “would be really bad. There’s an election in 11 days. Lordy, that would be really bad. Concealing in my view would be catastrophic, not just to the FBI but well beyond. 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 that we’re restarting this, not in some frivolous way — in a hugely significant way.”
Sending that letter to Congress was “one of the world’s most painful experiences,” the FBI director said. “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. “Even in hindsight — and this has been one of the world’s most painful experiences — I would make the same decision. I would not conceal that.”
Comey also rebutted criticism over an alleged double standard between probes into Clinton and Donald Trump, insisting that he treated them both the same, despite enormous public pressure:
But there won’t be another “peep” about the Trump investigation, according to Comey, who insisted he treated investigations into both Trump and Clinton “consistently under the same principles” and suggested that will continue to be the case. “With respect to the Russia investigation, we treated it like we did with the Clinton investigation,” Comey said. “We didn’t say a word about it until months into it, and then the only thing we’ve confirmed so far about this is the same thing with the Clinton investigation: that we are investigating, and I would expect we’re not gonna say another peep about it until we’re done. And I don’t know what’ll be said when we’re done, but that’s the way we handled the Clinton investigation as well.”
The above clip also shows that Comey didn’t just stick to defense in this appearance, either. Having made that decision to notify Congress, Comey reminds the committee that he did so in private communications, not through a press release. “By the way, people forget this,” Comey noted, “but I sent a private letter to the chairs and the rankings of the oversight committees.” When Dianne Feinstein scoffed at his point, Comey pointedly noted where the leaks occurred. “I know it’s a distinction without a difference in the world of leaks,” he replied, “but it was very important that I tell them instead of concealing.”
Let’s recall why Comey had to re-open the probe, too, when it comes to discretion among public officials. The FBI had spent months investigating the e-mail probe, including interviews with Hillary’s close aides such as Huma Abedin, about the secret server and the mishandling of classified information conducted with it. Without that indiscretion, Comey doesn’t have anything to investigate at all, of course, but the issue goes beyond that. Did Abedin ever volunteer that she used that computer and allow the FBI access to it? Had she done so, then the FBI probe into Anthony Weiner’s sex follies wouldn’t have produced anything new in September or October — and might have stopped Weiner earlier, for that matter. The September discovery owes its existence in large part to a lack of cooperation from the Clinton team. And once Weiner’s laptop came to their attention, FBI investigators had to at least suspect that it had been withheld for a reason other than simple oversight. That put Comey in the miserable position in which he found himself in late October.
There’s plenty to criticize about this investigation, but transparency shouldn’t be among them. Comey’s correct in this case, but don’t believe for a second it will stop Hillary and her apologists for continuing to pin the blame for her loss on Comey — and everyone else but Hillary herself.
Update: For more on the Hillary-Huma-Weiner point, James Comey explained what the FBI had found in the sex-crime probe:
Comey on Clinton: "Somehow her e-mails were being forwarded to Anthony Weiner including classified information…"
— Alex Pappas (@AlexPappas) May 3, 2017
Comey: Oct 27, metadata showed there was 1000s of Clinton emails on Weiner device, including maybe her missing emails.
— Jenna Lifhits (@jlifhits) May 3, 2017
So whose fault was it that Comey had to reopen the Hillary e-mail probe?