Former FBI Director James Comey revealed in congressional testimony Friday that the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election was not initially centered around then-Republican candidate Donald Trump, but instead on four yet-to-be-named Americans.
Trump fired Comey on May 9, 2017, supposedly for his handling of the investigation into the email server of then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Comey said that he first became aware of the four American persons of interest at the end of July 2016, and could not reveal their names as they are part of the ongoing investigation.
“We opened investigations on four Americans to see if there was any connection between those four Americans and the Russian interference effort. And those four Americans did not include the candidate,” Comey testified before a joint meeting between the House Judiciary and Oversight committees. On their names, “I don’t think that the Bureau has said that publicly, and so I’m not going to answer that unless it’s OK with the government.”
Friday’s hearing was one of the last chances that House Republicans have to investigate the Clinton emails for the foreseeable future, as a Democratic majority will take over in the lower chamber next month. Comey, who indicated a desire to speak with House Democrats in their upcoming probes, is scheduled to next appear before the joint committees on Dec. 17.
Comey did not mince words in his criticism of Trump and ardently defended the FBI.
“Some people are angry because they’ve been lied to for so long about the nature and quality of the FBI and the Department of Justice,” Comey said. “Lied to by the president and his supporters about the nature and quality of the Department of Justice and the FBI. It’s shortsighted, and anybody who knows those organizations knows it’s not true.”
Comey also defended former FBI investigator Peter Strzok, who led the Clinton email investigation and was later fired for sending text messages deriding Trump to Lisa Page, a former FBI lawyer with whom he was having an affair and who worked for former Deputy Attorney General Andrew McCabe.
“(Strzok) also was one of the handful of people in the entire world who knew we were investigating four Americans who had some connection to Mr. Trump during the summer of 2016, and he didn’t tell a soul,” Comey said.
Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, summed up sentiments expressed by Republican lawmakers.
“So, I guess as I try and summarize what I’ve heard today, Hillary Clinton mishandled classified information more than a hundred times,” Ratcliffe said to Comey. “…The FBI was aware that at least one of her aides also mishandled classified information. And one of the folks employed on behalf of Secretary Clinton intentionally destroyed evidence known to be subject to a congressional subpoena and preservation order and lied to theFBI about it. And on July 5, 2016, you stood before the American people and said that neither you nor any reasonable prosecutor would bring any charges in this fact pattern. Is that accurate?”
Comey responded, “Yep. I believed it then, I believe it now. And anybody that thinks we were on team Clinton, trying to cut her a break, is smoking something.”
Comey later tweeted that the hearing was “a desperate attempt to find anything that can be used to attack the institutions of justice investigating the president.”
Today wasn’t a search for truth, but a desperate attempt to find anything that can be used to attack the institutions of justice investigating this president. They came up empty today but will try again. In the long run, it'll make no difference because facts are stubborn things.
— James Comey (@Comey) December 8, 2018
A Department of Justice Inspector General report released in June found that Comey was insubordinate in his actions, but had no political motivations in revealing that the department was investigating Clinton’s use of a private email server to conduct government business. Clinton has maintained that Comey’s announcements were pivotal to her loss, especially since, unbeknownst to the public, the DOJ was simultaneously conducting another investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia’s campaign influence operation.
Comey Defends Mueller
Since his firing, the former director has repeatedly criticized the president’s handling of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling, testified numerous times before Congress and written a best-selling book about his career and interactions with the president. In the transcript of Comey’s testimony released Saturday, the former FBI director said he admired Mueller and said the Russia investigation is not a “witch hunt” as Trump repeatedly states. Trump has also called Comey and Mueller “best friends.”
“Although we’re not friends, I admire Bob Mueller. He is more than people realize,” Comey said, adding that he believed the investigation is being well-conducted. “Watching it from the outside, my judgment as an experienced prosecutor and investigator is it’s been conducted with extraordinary speed, with extraordinary professionalism, and zero disclosure outside of public court filings. It represents the way our criminal justice system is supposed to work in investigating, and I believe it’s incredibly important to the rule of law in this country that the work be allowed to finish.”
Trump tweeted that Comey should be forced to answer tough questions under oath. Comey was not under oath at the closed hearing; Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) told Comey that “to the extent that you decline to answer our questions or if counsel instructs you not to answer, we will consider whether a subpoena is necessary.”