FBI Director James Comey was on Capitol Hill today before the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss yet again the FBI’s role in investigating Hillary Clinton’s email usage. As Katie wrote, FBI Director Comey said that he wouldn’t change his decision on informing Congress about the batch of emails found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop, which was shared by top Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Abedin and Weiner are married. The October 28 letter is widely blamed by some to have tilted the election in Donald Trump’s favor, but the data suggests it isn’t as clear-cut. Moreover, while the Russians had a campaign of interference via state-funded news outlets and social media trolls, they did not hack the election. The deluge of fake news stories about Clinton also played no pivotal role in the 2016 election. That being said, Clinton seems incapable of moving on from this election, blaming Comey and the Russians during an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour during the Women for Women International Luncheon in New York City yesterday.
On the Hill, Comey said, as many have noted, that sitting on information like this regarding the Abedin/Weiner laptop would have been catastrophic for the bureau.
“I stared at speak and conceal. Speak would be really bad, there's an election in 11 days, lordy that would be really bad. Concealing in my view would have been catastrophic, not just to the FBI but well beyond and honestly, as between really bad and catastrophic, I said to my team we have to walk in the world of really bad,” he said to the committee. “We have to tell Congress that we are restarting this, not in some frivolous way, in a hugely significant way."
Prior to those remarks, Comey said that Loretta Lynch’s 20-minute meeting with former president Bill Clinton on the tarmac at a Phoenix proved to be the tipping point, prompting him to take actions to protect the investigation and the integrity of the Department of Justice. That action was the July 5 press conference, where the director chastised Hillary Clinton and her team for gross negligence when it came to handling sensitive government material. In the end, he declined to press charges since they couldn’t prove intent, though that’s not necessarily a statute in the law concerning mishandling classified material (via WaPo) [emphasis mine]:
I've lived my whole life caring about the credibility and the integrity of the criminal justice process, that the American people believe it to be and that it be in fact fair, independent and honest. And so what I struggled with in the spring of last year was how do we credibly complete the investigation of Hillary Clinton's e-mails if we conclude there's no case there?
The normal way to do it would be to the Department of Justice announce it. And I struggled as we got closer to the end of it with the -- a number things had gone on, some of which I can't talk about yet, that made me worry that the department leadership could not credibly complete the investigation and declined prosecution without grievous damage to the American people's confidence in the -- in the justice system.
And then the capper was -- and I'm not picking on the -- the Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who I like very much -- but her meeting with President Clinton on that airplane was the capper for me. And I then said, you know what, the department cannot by itself credibly end this. The best chance we have as a justice system is if I do something I never imagined before, step away from them and tell the American people, look, here's what the FBI did, here's what we found, here's what we think. And that that offered us the best chance of the American people believing in the system, that it was done in a credible way.
That was a hard call for me to make to the call the attorney general that morning and say I'm about to do a press conference and I'm not going to tell you what I'm going to say. And I said to her, hope someday you'll understand why I think I have to do this. But look, I wasn't loving this.
I knew this would be disastrous for me personally, but I thought this is the best way to protect these institutions that we care so much about. And having done that, and then having testified repeatedly under oath we're done, this was done in a credible way, there's no there there.
That when the Anthony Weiner thing landed on me on October 27 and there was a huge -- this is what people forget -- new step to be taken, we may be finding the golden missing e-mails that would change this case. If I were not to speak about that, it would be a disastrous, catastrophic concealment.
This touches upon what was reported in The New York Times last month, where the lengthy piece described Comey’s navigation through this investigation, and how some at the FBI thought the attorney general was playing semantic gymnastics to play down the severity of the investigation. For example, then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch told Comey to call the investigation a “matter,” which the latter stated in some remarks. Yet, it also noted that the meeting on the tarmac proved to be a point of no return. Something had to be done to play down the notion that the DOJ was tilting the scales for the Democratic candidate, hence why Comey’s July presser torched Clinton.
Again, the sad fact of this whole matter is that it was avoidable. Clinton would probably be president right now if she hadn’t been so flippant about using an unauthorized and unsecure email server to conduct official State Department business. And conservatives and liberals would not have bashed Comey over this investigation as well. The Right was infuriated that the FBI did not press charges against Clinton, while liberals turned on Comey over the October 28 letter [the Weiner letter] informing Congress that they had reopened the probe into the emails.