UPDATED with more details: FBI director James Comey said he went public about the bureau’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails just 11 days before the election because, while that “would be really bad,” it was preferable to concealment, which “in my view, would be catastrophic.” Testifying today before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Comey stoutly defended his decision to “walk into the world of ‘really bad’,” but called it “one of the world’s most painful experiences.”
“Look, this is terrible. It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election,” Comey told the committee and viewers watching via cable news networks, PBS, livestreams, etc. “But honestly, it wouldn’t change the decision.”
Comey later said of that decision, “You may think we’re idiots; we’re honest people.”
Then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s infamous tarmac meeting during the presidential race with Hillary Clinton’s husband Bill was the “capper” that caused him to head to the cameras with information about the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, Comey said.
In other headlines:
Comey shot down President Donald Trump’s assertion that China might have been behind the DNC hack during the election. In an interview with CBS’ Face the Nation, Trump said about the DNC hack, “If you don’t catch a hacker, OK, in the act; it’s very hard to say who did the hacking. … Could have been China, could have been a lot of different groups.”
Asked about that assertion under oath, Comey said: We have high degree of intelligence that North Koreans hacked Sony and high confidence Russia hacked DNC.”
Comey said “I don’t know yet” if there is truth to Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani’s boasts he had a pipeline to the FBI during the investigation of Clinton’s emails. He added, “but if I found out, there will be severe consequences,” calling it “a matter I’m very, very interested in.”
Comey also confirmed he had spoken to former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates about Trump’s first national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. “I did, the answer is yes” he told the committee. “I don’t know whether I can talk about it.” (Yates is set to testify to Congress next week as to when she alerted the Trump White House about her concerns on Flynn.)
Asked to explain what was the distinction between the activities of Wikileaks and news outlets that have been reporting on these above-mentioned subjects, Comey described Wikileaks as “intelligence porn.”
“Did you give Hillary Clinton a free pass for many bad deeds?” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked Comey, as Trump tweeted hours before Comey testified.
“No, that was not my intention, certainly,” Comey responded.
“Did you give her a free pass for many bad deeds, whatever your intention may have been?” Whitehouse clarified.
“We conducted a competent, honest and independent investigation, closed it, while offering transparency to the American people. I believed what I said: there was not a prosecute-able case there.” Similarly, Comey said earlier in the slog that the probe into Clinton aide Huma Abedin and her then-husband Anthony Weiner, in re classified emails sent to his laptop, has ended. There too, he said, the bureau “could not prove” criminal intent.
Comey told Sen. Al Franken he “did not know” if, as Franken suggested, in order to ascertain whether Trump would was vulnerable to Russian exploitation during the election, an investigation needs to know if Trump has money tied up in Russia.
That did not deter Franken, who made sure viewers knew that, in 2008, Don Jr. told real estate developers “Russia makes up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” adding, “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” And that, in 2013, Trump held his Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow, financed by a Russian billionaire who is close to Russian leader Vladimir Putin. And that Trump sold a Palm Beach mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008 for $54M more than he’d paid for it just four years earlier. “It seems to me…any investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian operatives would require a full appreciation of the president’s financial dealings,” Franken said.
“That’s not something I’m going to answer,” Comey responded, surprising no one.
Last time Comey testified in a hearing on the Hill, he confirmed the bureau was digging into whether the Trump campaign synched up with Russia’s work to affect the U.S. presidential election.
Clinton and Trump warmed up the media for Wednesday morning’s testimony. On Tuesday Clinton told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that Comey cost her the election. “I was on the way to winning until a combination of Jim Comey’s letter on October 28th and Russian Wikileaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me but got scared off.” She credited Russian ruler Vladimir Putin with working like a beaver to nuke her campaign and help Trump’s, saying “if you chart my opponent and his campaign’s statements, they quite coordinated with the goals that that leader who shall remain nameless had.”
And, faster than you can say “of course he did!” Trump tweeted: