Patterico's Pontifications

4/16/2018

More from the Interview

Filed under: — Patterico @ 7:32 am

Here’s even more.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Even though you didn’t know what was in– what was in those emails, you could have predicted what President Trump and his allies would do with it once you released this information. It’s exactly what happened. Everyone says, “This must be significant. This must be real.”

JAMES COMEY: Yeah, I totally get that, and– which is why we worked so hard. And although they didn’t want to talk to me about the decision, the leadership of the Department of Justice did give input on what I should say to Congress. And the goal was to say as little as possible, because we didn’t know, “Is this going to change our result or not?”

But j– of course I know what’s going to happen. It’s going to be distorted one way, just as if it– when the later thing came out, it would be distorted the other way.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: That concern, when it dealt with the classified information about Loretta Lynch, something you didn’t believe but were worried about how it would be used, didn’t seem to affect you here. Here you know that President Trump is going to say– that candidate Trump at the time is going to say, “This proves everything I’ve been saying about Hillary Clinton is right.”

JAMES COMEY: Yeah. And the question is so what do I do? Given that that’s going to happen, what do I do? Does– does that mean I conceal? And my judgment, and reasonable people can disagree about this– my point is not to tell people– “You should believe I’m right.” But I want people to know where the decision came from. That’s between speaking and concealing. It would destroy the Department of Justice and the FBI to conceal that information from the American people.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s the judgment you made. Boy, you seem to be alone in that judgment. You look at previous attorney generals for President Bush, for President Ford, for President Obama, Justice Department officials for President Clinton; they all disagree with you. They say this crossed a line.

JAMES COMEY: Yeah, I’ve– I’ve heard a lot of that. And in fact, all that was put together allegedly to be the reason for my firing. What I would hope is that they would, by reading the book, come with me to October 28th. Come with me, and sit there with me.

Not knowing the future. And sit there with me, look at the doors I looked at, and tell me then what you would do. Tell me which you would pick? And th– that’s what I would, in my mind’s eye, scream at the television. I wouldn’t scream at the television, but I’d say, “Tell me what you would do. Tell me which door you would pick.”

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: They have a pretty clear answer. You say you don’t break with longstanding Justice Department norms, you don’t reveal information like this?

JAMES COMEY: Yeah. Okay. And so that means– and first of all, the Justice Department norms allow you, in appropriate cases, to comment on an investigation, to comment on the facts you found in an investigation, all the things we talk–

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But there’s no– there’s– there’s no precedent for– putting out information like this at the end of a campaign?

JAMES COMEY: Oh, I’ve never heard of it before. I– I– as I say in the book, I– I think I did it the way that it should have been done. I’m– I’m not certain of that. Other people might have had a different view. I pray to God no future FBI director ever has to find out.

I– I hope so much this is just a 500-year flood we never see again. We have the FBI’s criminally investigating one of the two candidates for president of the United States during the campaign. And– and just over a week before the election, we find on Anthony Weiner’s laptop– and by the way, I– I know this is obvious, but I didn’t put the emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.

Right? I would so much rather Anthony Weiner had never had a laptop. I’d rather never have heard about this situation. But a week or so before the election, we find material on Anthony Weiner’s laptop that may change the result, including the missing Blackberry emails.

My question for all those op-ed pieces is, “So what do you do?” And maybe you would choose conceal, but you gotta explain to me why and how you think ab– again, not with the benefit of hindsight. But how you think about the damage to the institutions–

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: We just don’t get involved two weeks before an election.

JAMES COMEY: Right. To my mind, that is a narrow way to answer that question without considering the damage to the institutions you lead. I mean, “We don’t get involved.” We get involved if it is the least bad option, right? That’s a terrible option, to speak. It made me sick to my stomach to speak.

I’ve devoted my life in government to institutions that have no impact on elections. Speaking is going to have some impact, potentially. But concealing is going to destroy the institutions that I love.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Hillary Clinton’s convinced that that letter defeated her. What do you say to her?

JAMES COMEY: I hope not. I– I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I sure hope not. But– the honest answer is, it wouldn’t change the way I think about it. I mean, my hope– I didn’t write the book for this reason. But talking about leadership, it was important to tell the email story because it’s me trying to figure out how to lead well.

That people will read that story and try to put themselves in my shoes. Try to realize that I’m not trying to help a candidate or hurt a candidate; I’m trying to do the right thing. And you can come up with different conclusions. Reasonable people woulda chosen a different door for reasonable reasons. But it’s just not fair to say we were doing it for some illegitimate reason.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: If you knew that letter would elect Donald Trump, you’d still send it?

JAMES COMEY: I would. I would. In fact, that was a question asked by one of my best people– a deputy general counsel in the FBI who is a very thoughtful and quiet person, who didn’t speak a lot. And that– that morning we were making that decision, she asked, “Should you consider that what you’re about do to may help elect Donald Trump president?”

And I paused, and then I said, “Thank you for asking that question. That’s a great question. But the answer is not for a moment because down that path lies the death of the FBI as an independent force in American life. If I ever start considering whose political fortunes will be affected by a decision, we’re done. We’re no longer that group in America that is apart from the partisans, and that can be trusted. We’re just another player in the– in the tribal battle.”

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But– but at some level, wasn’t the decision to reveal influenced by your assumption that Hillary Clinton was going to win? And your concern that she wins, this comes out several weeks later, and then that’s taken by her opponent as a sign that she’s an illegitimate president?

JAMES COMEY: It must have been. I don’t remember consciously thinking about that, but it must have been. ‘Cause I was operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was going to beat Donald Trump. And so I’m sure that it– that it was a factor. Like I said, I don’t remember spelling it out, but it had to have been. That– that she’s going to be elected president, and if I hide this from the American people, she’ll be illegitimate the moment she’s elected, the moment this comes out.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: An– and doesn’t that also explain, at some level, your decision to conceal the fact that you’re investigating the Trump campaign for possible ties to Russia? You conceal it so you don’t give him an excuse to say, “Hey, this thing is rigged.”

JAMES COMEY: Well, no. Not with respect to the counterintelligence investigation of those small number of Americans. That– that was actually not a hard call, given the sensitivity of the matter and that it was ongoing. We didn’t want to tip anybody off. What– you’re right though, with respect to the decision by President Obama, as to how to talk about the Russian interference with the American people.

I think it was– I mean, he said it to me– in that meeting I described, “Putin backed the wrong horse.” He was clearly thinking, “I don’t want to, given that Trump’s going to lose, be– look like I’m putting my finger on the scale.”

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You’ve said that a few times now. You think it’s not a close call. Boy, your critics say this is a clear, clear, clear double standard. You revealed information about Hillary Clinton; you concealed information about Donald Trump. That elected Donald Trump.

JAMES COMEY: Yeah, I get that. I get that– why they say that. But what I’d ask them to do is take a step back and stare at the two cases and the posture they were in. The Hillary Clinton email case, which began with a public referral, and so was public, th– and we were actually investigating the candidate herself; and the counterintelligence investigations trying to figure out whether a small group of people, not Donald Trump– we were not investigating Donald Trump.

Whether this small group of Americans was coordinating anything with the Russians. We had just started the investigation. Didn’t know whether we had anything. So it would have been brutally unfair to those people to talk about it. And it woulda jeopardized the investigation.

As I said, the Department wouldn’t agree to talk about that, and only in a general way, until the following March. So I hope those critics– I get the initial reaction. It seems inconsistent. But if you take the time and look at the posture of the two cases, they’re very, very different. And actually illustrate the rule that we’re following.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: If Attorney General Lynch had ordered you not to send the letter, would you have sent it?

JAMES COMEY: No.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: No way?

JAMES COMEY: No way. I– I believe in the chain of command. I followed her instruction to call it a “matter,” because she told me to call it a “matter.” And I didn’t believe it was unethical or illegal. And so, yes, I would have followed their instruction.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Why do you think they didn’t order you not to send it?

JAMES COMEY: I don’t know. I don’t know. Part of me thinks– given an encounter I had with Loretta after I sent it, that she may have understood what I was doing. And– and so didn’t want to be involved in the decision, didn’t want to approve it, but didn’t want to give me the instruction not to send it. Sorta let me take the hit for that. And I could be wrong about that, but– but I think that’s consistent with– with– an encounter I had with her privately.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: What did it feel like to be James Comey in the last ten days of that campaign after ya sent the letter?

JAMES COMEY: It sucked. Yeah, it was– it was a very painful period. Again, my whole life has been dedicated to institutions that work not to have an involvement in an election. I walked around vaguely sick to my stomach, feeling beaten down. I felt, when I went to the White House– I don’t want to spoil it for people, but there’s a movie called “The Sixth Sense” that I talk about in the book where Bruce Willis doesn’t realize he’s dead.

That’s the way I felt. I felt like I was totally alone, that everybody hated me. And that there wasn’t a way out because it really was the right thing to do. And that– that, in a way, I’m ruined. But that’s what I have to do. I had to do it the way.

Former FBI Director told ABC News George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview that felt he was ruined, but did what he had to do.Play
Comey felt ‘totally alone’ after writing Clinton’s emails letter
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And during that time, you actually talked about this encounter with Loretta Lynch.

JAMES COMEY: Yeah, the Monday I sent the letter– I learn about the emails, get briefed on the need for a search warrant on the 27th of October. We debated and debated and debated and decide on the 28th to send the letter. We had a regular meeting with Loretta on Monday, so that woulda been the 31st.

And she emailed me the Sunday night before and said, “Hey, can I meet with you after our regular terrorism threat briefing on Monday morning?” Said, “Sure.” And at the end of the meeting, she asked could she meet with me? Which of course we’d al– I’d already agreed to meet.

But our staffs were all there, and so they then knew the two of us were going to meet. And they all waited outside. And Loretta took me into an office in the FBI that’s reserved for the attorney general, and I walked in first, and she walked in and closed the door and then turned and just walked towards me with her head down and her arms out.

And I’m not a big hugger, but especially– there was an awkward dis– difference in our height, I guess as there is with me and most people. But she pressed her face against my chest and wrapped her arms around me and then I reached down, as I explain in the book, and kinda awkwardly hugged.

And then we– parted and she said, “I– I thought you needed a hug.” And she was right. I’m sure it showed on my face how beaten I felt. And then we sat down and she said, “How are you doing?” Loretta Lynch is a really good person and has known me a long time.

She said, “How are you doing?” And I told her that I felt terrible, that I felt beaten, and– but that I didn’t see that I had a choice. And then she said something that floored me. She said, “Would they feel better if it leaked on November the 4th?” And my reaction was– and I said to her, “Exactly, Loretta.”

And so, I don’t know, was she telling me, “You’ve done the right thing?” And, in a way, hugging me because she feels badly I’ve taken this incredibly brutal hit? I don’t know. But I interpreted that as, “First of all, I feel badly for you. And even if you hadn’t made this decision, once you start going to get a search warrant for Anthony Weiner’s laptop to look at hundreds of thousands of Hillary Clinton emails, it’s likely to leak out anyway,” she’s telling me.

And remember, the Department of Justice had thought, “We gotta go get a search warrant,” in the week before the election. And so that’s how I took it. Again, I– I could be wrong about that, but that’s how I took it.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the reasons it was– you feared it was going to leak out is– ’cause you were dealing with a rogue element of FBI agents and former FBI agents up in New York who were really pushing to get this out there. Were you aware of that?

JAMES COMEY: I knew that there were leaks coming– or appeared to be leaks about criminal investigation of the Clintons coming out of New York. And I don’t know exactly where that was coming from. I commissioned an investigation to find out. I don’t know what the investigation found.

But, yeah, I was worried about– the– the team that had done the investigation was in the counterintelligence division at headquarters, of the emails. And there were no leaks at all, very tight. But the criminal folks in New York were now involved in a major way, and I don’t want to single anybody out ’cause I don’t know where it was coming from.

But there’d been enough up there that I thought there was a pretty reasonable likelihood that it would leak, and that’s what Loretta was reflecting.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You had your– your former boss, Rudy Giuliani, out there on television saying something big was coming.

JAMES COMEY: Yes, I saw that. And I don’t know whether that was– it’s part of what I ordered investigated. I don’t know whether that was part of a leak outta the– FBI office in New York that knew about the search warrant. But that was my concern, that once you start seeking a search warrant, especially in a criminal case– counterintelligence is different.

They’re so used to operating in a classified environment. They’re much tighter. But once you start involving people whose tradition is criminal, and in New York which has a different culture, there is a reasonable likelihood it was going to get out anyway.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So were you gamed here by people who had political motives?

JAMES COMEY: I don’t think so. I mean, I– I don’t think anybody with political motives put hundreds of thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop, for heaven sakes. And so I– I don’t think so.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Is one of the lessons here that, as hard as you tried to stay outta politics, it actually is unavoidable? That because you have to make political assumptions as ya– as– as you’re closing in on an election, you’re thrown into politics no matter which decision you make?

JAMES COMEY: Oh, I think that’s right. And that– that wasn’t a new lesson. That was why Mark Giuliani said at the beginning, “You know you’re totally screwed.” The FBI’s an independent organization, but it’s operating in a very, very difficult partisan environment in the United States.

And investigating one of the two candidates for president of the United States. That’s what he meant, “You’re totally screwed.” And– one of my kids– I stayed off Twitter during that period of time. One of my kids shared with me a tweet that’s become one of my favorites where someone said, “That Comey is such a political hack.

I just can’t figure out which party.” And I took that as a compliment, but also an illustration of what I’m talking about. You’re the FBI, you’re supposed to be finding the facts. And you’re finding the facts in a world where everybody’s on a side, and can’t possibly understand you’re not on a side. And so you’re inevitably going to get hammered from all points, and you’re going to be involved in politics in some sense, because you’re in the middle of it–

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But does that–

JAMES COMEY: –trying to find out what’s true.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: –lead to the conclusion do what you’re going to do, don’t talk about it?

JAMES COMEY: Yes, except that you’re an institution that depends upon public trust. And so, again, those people who say, “You should have just closed the Clinton investigation without saying a word about it,” I don’t think you’re thinking about the public trust in the institutions of justice, and the damage that would have done to people’s faith and trust that the justice system is working.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But hasn’t the public–

JAMES COMEY: It’s the reason that you talk about cases– again, cases of great interest you talk about all the time. It was really important that the Department of Justice put out a report about what happened in Ferguson, Missouri. An 80-some-page report.

Now, they could have said, “We don’t talk about our investigations,” but folks wanted to know what happened in Ferguson, Missouri? For reasons I totally understand. And when you’re the Justice Department, you’ve got to tell people, when you can, “This was done in the right way, and here’s what you should know–

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But aren’t you concerned that that public trust has taken a hit because of the decisions you made?

JAMES COMEY: Oh, of course I am. Yeah, I’ve thought about it a lot. And I was going to say a million times. Probably haven’t thought about it a million times, maybe a thousand or more, and asked myself, “So should I have done something differently?” And I think it’s fair to say somebody else in my shoes might have done something differently.

The honest answer is I screwed up a couple of things, but in the main, I think given what I knew at the time, these were the decisions that were best calculated to preserve the values of the institutions. It was terrible for me, terrible. But I still think it was the right thing to do.

And my hope in this book is, not that people agree with me, y– they may still walk outta this thinking I’m an idiot, but I’m an honest idiot. And I really was deliberative, and didn’t do this alone. I had a team of very bright people who argued and fought and debated trying to figure out, “So what’s the right thing to do?”

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Your general counsel, I believe, thought you shouldn’t release the letter, correct?

JAMES COMEY: No. There was o– there was one senior executive who thought we shouldn’t send the second letter, November the 8th, saying, “We have finished looking at these emails and it doesn’t change our result.” But other than that– I mean, we debated a ton of different options. The senior team of the FBI, including the general counsel, thought we have to.

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