FBI Director James Comey says he’s ‘mildly nauseous’ at possibility he helped tip U.S. election
FBI Director James Comey defended his decision to disclose the agency was restarting its probe into Hillary Clinton’s email use just days before last year’s election while not disclosing a separate probe into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
And he said he’d do it all again, even though it may have affected the presidential race.
“It makes me mildly nauseous to think we might have had some impact on the election,” Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. Yet in reviewing his decision, he said, not disclosing the probe “would have been catastrophic.”
Comey’s defense came a day after former Democratic candidate Clinton said that the FBI chief’s move along with Russian meddling cost her the presidency. Comey addressed the Senate panel as the bureau continues to investigate the Russian role in the campaign but said he wouldn’t say a “peep” more than he already has about that probe.
Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey testifies in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee during an oversight hearing on the FBI on Capitol Hill May 3, 201y
The director’s decision-making in the two separate probes brought him harsh questioning from members of both political parties. Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa pressed Comey over what the Republican lawmaker called “materially inconsistent” responses from the FBI on how much its Russia probe has relied on unverified sources, including an unsubstantiated and salacious dossier on Trump’s links and activities in Russia prior to his candidacy.
“Much of the dossier has been proven wrong,” Grassley said, asking if the FBI had paid for the report, and warned that the agency’s credibility was at stake. “We need to know if there was anything improper between the Trump campaign and the Russians” or if people are merely “chasing a conspiracy theory,” he added.
Ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California disputed Comey’s decisions on the inquiry into Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.
It’s still “very unclear” why the FBI’s treatment of the Trump and Clinton investigations were handled “so dramatically different,” she said. “I join those who believe that the actions taken by the FBI did in fact have an impact on the election.”
“You took an enormous gamble: the gamble was that there was something there that would invalidate her candidacy. And there wasn’t,” she said.
Pressed about FBI leaks allegedly made to the media and officials associated with Trump’s campaign last year, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Comey said there would be “severe consequences” if any FBI agents were found to have disclosed information improperly.
Dems Press Comey on Clinton, Trump Probes 3:14
While the Clinton probe closed last year, the FBI is continuing to investigate Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, which U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was aimed at hurting Clinton and, ultimately, at helping Trump win.
Comey disclosed in a March hearing that the FBI’s investigation includes “the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.” He also revealed then that the FBI opened its investigation in July — four months before the November election.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Comey said of the Russian probe: “I expect that we’re not going to say another peep about it until we’re done.”
The Russian hacking, and last year’s investigation into Clinton’s emails, continue to be sore subjects for both Trump and Clinton.
While Trump at one point said he accepted the intelligence finding that Russia was behind the hacking and leaking of Democratic emails, he has pulled back from that conclusion in recent days. It “could have been China, could have been a lot of different groups,” he said in a CBS interview that aired on Sunday. “It’s very hard to say who did the hacking.”
In a Twitter posting late Tuesday, after a phone call with Putin, Trump wrote, “The phony Trump/Russia story was an excuse used by the Democrats as justification for losing the election.”