Outgoing Senator Harry Reid appeared on MSNBC this morning for one more attack on FBI Director Comey, comparing him to J. Edgar Hoover and suggested he should resign. However, it’s not clear that anything Reid said is backed up by facts.
MSNBC host Joy Reid opened with a question pointing the finger at FBI Director James Comey. “Senator Reid you, as far back as October, were attempting to warn the country that the CIA had this information, you sent a letter to James Comey, the FBI Director, to that effect. Why, sir, do you believe that the FBI did not act on it and that nothing was done before November 8th?” she asked. “Because I did not believe Comey was the new J. Edgar Hoover,” Senator Reid replied. “I thought that he would do the right thing for the country,” Reid added.
“We’ve all read the press the last few days, the FBI had this material for a long time but he, Comey, who is of course a Republican refused to divulge this information regarding Russia and the presidential election,” Senator Reid said. At this point, Reid’s train of thought seemed to go off the tracks a bit. “You know, Russia has a pretty good way of cheating. Look at what they did with athletes. This is just the needle under the tent…or however the hell you say it,” Reid said. He seems to be conflating the biblical story about a came passing through the eye of a needle with the proverb about a camel’s nose under the tent.
Host Joy Reid asked the Senator to clarify saying, “You believe the FBI director had this information and deliberately withheld it from the American people before the election. Is that your contention, sir?” “That’s right. That is true,” Reid replied.
A bit later Senator Reid said, “I am so disappointed in Comey. He has let the country down for partisan purposes and that’s why I called him the new J. Edgar Hoover because I believe that.” Asked if he believed Comey should resign, Senator Reid replied, “Of course. Yes. But he won’t. He’s got a term there and I’m sure he’s got the new administration…they should like him, he helped them get elected.”
Let’s parse what Senator Reid is saying here. First, he did send Director Comey a letter in August asking the FBI Director to investigate any connections between Russia and the Trump campaign and make the results of that investigation public knowledge. That letter did not accuse Comey of sitting on a conclusion from the CIA that Russia was trying to influence the election on behalf of Trump. Nor did a subsequent letter on October 30, 2016 in which Reid wrote, “it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government.” Reid’s letters were focused on a possible connection between the Trump campaign and the Russian hacking, not on the CIA consensus about the purpose of the Russian hacking.
The Washington Post broke the news last night that the current CIA consensus was revealed to lawmakers last week, i.e. Russia was trying to actively help Trump win. The Post story is the one Senator Reid is supposedly responding to in this MSNBC interview, but the Post report doesn’t say when the CIA reached this conclusion. There is a suggestion that this only came after the election:
U.S. intelligence agencies have been cautious for months in characterizing Russia’s motivations, reflecting the United States’ long-standing struggle to collect reliable intelligence on President Vladimir Putin and those closest to him.
In previous assessments, the CIA and other intelligence agencies told the White House and congressional leaders that they believed Moscow’s aim was to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system. The assessments stopped short of saying the goal was to help elect Trump.
Back in September, unnamed officials were telling the Post that Russia might be trying to disrupt the election and sow chaos. When the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence officially accused Russia of being behind the hacking of Democratic groups in October, their joint statement did not say the goal was to help Trump win the election. So it seems the officials inside the Obama administration were not certain enough at the time to make that claim public. That assessment only came weeks after the election.
As for Comey, the Post story does say he and others were part of a White House effort to gain bipartisan support for a statement attributing the hacks to Russia. However it was Senator Mitch McConnell and several other Republicans who resisted issuing a statement:
According to several officials, McConnell raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.
Some of the Republicans in the briefing also seemed opposed to the idea of going public with such explosive allegations in the final stages of an election, a move that they argued would only rattle public confidence and play into Moscow’s hands.
The Obama White House had the same information Reid is now suggesting Director Comey was sitting on. Why isn’t Reid upset with the White House for failing to release it? More to the point, if the CIA was confident of this in October, why didn’t DHS and the DNI mention it then? One possible answer is that the CIA only recently reached this conclusion. Nothing in the Post story says otherwise.
Of course it’s possible Reid knows something the public does not but usually when we start down that road it turns out Reid is just lying. The most likely explanation for Reid’s outburst is that President Obama doesn’t make a convenient villain to help explain why Hillary lost the election, whereas James Comey does. As we’ve come to expect from Senator Reid, this is about scoring partisan political points and not about telling the truth.