WASHINGTON — FBI Director James Comey strongly defended Wednesday his decision to alert Congress just days before the 2016 election about his agency’s investigation into emails potentially related to Hillary Clinton’s personal server, telling senators while the idea of impacting the election made him “mildly nauseous,” he would not change what he did.
“It was a hard choice, I still believe in retrospect the right choice,” Comey told senators at a judiciary committee hearing on oversight of his agency on Wednesday. “I can’t consider for a second whose political fortunes will be affected.”
Comey faced sharp questions from both sides of the aisle and is testifying the day after the sitting U.S. President and the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee sharply criticized him for his role in the outcome of last year’s presidential election.
He also said Russia to this day is actively involved in trying to influence U.S. politics, emboldened after the outcome of last year’s election.
“I think one of the lessons that the Russians may have drawn from this is: this works,” Comey said.
Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley originally called oversight hearing of the FBI to examine what the agency knows about a 2015 terrorist attack in Garland, Texas.
But the broad oversight hearing almost immediately shifted to the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. elections, a subject on which there are four congressional probes in progress that have led to a steady stream of revelations since President Donald Trump was elected.
Comey has become an almost equally divisive figure for Republicans and Democrats for his impact on the 2016 elections.
“A cloud of doubt hangs over the FBI’s objectivity,” Grassley said in his opening remarks, which listed a series of issues he took with the agency.
“The public’s faith in the FBI, Congress, and our democratic process has been tested lately.”
Comey’s revelation that the FBI was examining additional emails from Hillary Clinton that were discovered on disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s computer, has led Democrats — including Clinton herself — to say it cost them the White House.
“I was on the way to winning until a combination of Jim Comey’s letter on Oct. 28 and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me and got scared off,” the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee said Tuesday.
Ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein used her first remarks to question the agency’s timing and handling the Clinton investigation.
“Why didn’t you just do the investigation as you would normally, with no public announcement?” the California Democrat asked.
“Having repeatedly told this Congress we’re done and there’s nothing there, there’s no case there, there’s no case there, to restart in a hugely significant way, potentially finding the emails that would reflect on her intent from the beginning and not speak about it would require an act of concealment in my view,” Comey responded as part of his lengthy answer explaining his letter to Congress.
Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates is prepared to testify before a Senate panel next week that she gave a forceful warning to the White House regarding then-national security adviser Michael Flynn and his conversations with the Russians nearly three weeks before he was fired, contradicting the administration’s version of events.
Comey, responding to a question Wednesday from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, confirmed Yates discussed her assessment that Flynn might be vulnerable with him.
Following those remarks, Trump criticized Comey the night before the hearing.
Senate Democrats grilled the FBI chief about his decisions in the final days of the U.S. election last year and his timing for releasing that information.
Wednesday’s meeting will be the first of two consecutive hearings for Comey this week. The second will be a closed-door meeting with the House Intelligence Committee, focused largely on follow-up questions from their explosive first meeting in March.