On Saturday, Congress released the 234-page transcript of closed-door testimony from ex-FBI Director James Comey before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committee the day prior. This is a summary of notable moments with page number citations so you can read for yourself.
Hillary Clinton probe
Comey confirmed that controversial FBI lovers Peter Strzok and Lisa Page served both on the team investigating Hillary Clinton’s email practices and the team investigating Trump-Russia connections (p. 18).
Context: Strzok and Page were pulled from the Special Counsel Robert Mueller probe in summer 2017 after the DOJ Inspector General discovered they had exchanged many, pejorative text message and emails. For example, emails lambasted Trump, saying that Hillary should beat him “100 million to zero.” One email referred to Hillary as “the President.” Strzok and Page left the FBI earlier this year amid ongoing controversy.
Comey says he would not have allowed Strzok and Page to serve on the Hillary email investigation if he had known about their private communications (p. 18).
Analysis: This appears to be an acknowledgment that the FBI investigation was tainted, or has the appearance of being tainted, by bias.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch
Comey said the tarmac meeting between Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton five days before Hillary Clinton’s FBI interview was problematic and “potentially inappropriate.” Comey acknowledges he didn’t take steps to find out the substance of the conversation (pp. 33-34).
Comey says he also learned of “material” that, if made public, “would be used to cast doubt on whether [Lynch] had acted appropriately” in the Hillary investigation (p. 35). He did not say what the material entailed.
Context: Comey first revealed the existence of the Lynch “material” in his book. According to a report on CNN, the material may refer to discussions between Lynch and Clinton staffer Amanda Renteria or former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. However, Lynch has denied discussing “any aspect of the investigation” with them.
Comey said there was “the appearance of conflict or the appearance that [Lynch] was compromised in some fashion” (p. 48).
Comey also said that Lynch should have recused herself from the Clinton investigation (p. 77).
Comey says he raised his concerns about Lynch’s objectivity with Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and that Lynch was subsequently “briefed and interviewed about the nature of that material” by McCabe and others (p. 36).
Note: McCabe was battling his own appearance of bias with his wife, Jill McCabe, a political candidate, receiving a large amount of campaign funds from Clinton connections.
Analysis: Lynch, McCabe, Strzok, and Page were key players in the Clinton email probe who ended up with conflicts of interest or the appearance of bias. Comey expressed no concern over the question of whether Lynch’s tarmac meeting and refusal to recuse may have amounted to obstruction of justice.
Hillary Clinton’s FBI interview
Comey said he doesn’t know who drafted the questions for Hillary Clinton’s FBI interview. He says he didn’t read them. The FBI didn’t record the interview. Comey said he also doesn’t remember why Clinton’s interview wasn’t conducted before a grand jury (p. 38).
Comey said he doesn’t know for sure why the witnesses in the Clinton email investigation weren’t subpoenaed and questioned before the grand jury. He says the FBI investigative team deemed it unnecessary (p. 212).
Comey would later tell the DOJ Inspector General that prior to Hillary’s interview he didn’t think there was any “there there.” (Comey says he doesn’t remember saying this to the IG, but agrees he did say it because it’s reflected in a transcript.) (p. 39).
Comey says the fact that he drafted a memo concluding Clinton shouldn’t be prosecuted, two months before her FBI interview, doesn’t indicate that he’d prejudged the case before the facts were in (p. 42).
Comey says he doesn’t know whether anyone at the FBI or DOJ shared the questions for Clinton in advance with her attorney Cheryl Mills or attorney Heather Samuelson (p. 211).
Context: The FBI granted Mills and Samuelson immunity from prosecution and allowed them to sit in on Clinton’s FBI interview.
Comey said it was “very unusual” for the FBI to have allowed Mills and Samuelson to sit in on Clinton’s FBI interview because “you’d ideally like people not to know what others’ stories are so they’re not able to get their story together.” Comey doesn’t remember why the arrangement was permitted. He said the decision was made by the Justice Department, not the FBI, but that the FBI didn’t object. Comey says he doesn’t remember whether he, personally, knew of the arrangement (pp. 202-204).
Analysis: With Comey stating that Attorney General Lynch was potentially conflicted and that she should have recused herself, it’s unclear why her agency, the Justice Department, was allowed to call important shots on the FBI’s procedures, and why Comey—as FBI Director—wasn’t more read-in on an investigation involving a woman most thought would likely be the next president.
Comey doesn’t know what, if anything, the FBI asked Hillary Clinton about her husband’s tarmac meeting with Lynch five days earlier (p. 45).
Note: No such questions are reflected in the FBI interview summary.
Analysis: Comey and the FBI agents on the Hillary case appear oddly lacking in curiosity about a tarmac meeting that Comey says he found so problematic, it caused him to “distance himself” from Lynch. The FBI apparently didn’t interview Hillary, Bill or Lynch about the tarmac discussions.
Comey said he doesn’t remember if the FBI asked State Department employee Bryan Pagliano who instructed him to set up Clinton’s unusual private server. Comey says he doesn’t remember who Paul Combetta is (pp. 199-201).
Note: Combetta was involved in maintaining at least one of Clinton’s private servers. He destroyed subpoenaed email evidence, then is said to have lied to the FBI about doing so.
Context: The FBI granted Pagliano, Combetta and other Clinton associates immunity from prosecution. Typically, immunity is granted in return for information to prosecute others, but no such information was obtained from the immunized officials in the Clinton email probe.
Comey says he doesn’t remember why the FBI granted Pagliano immunity (pp. 199-201).
Comey says he doesn’t know if the FBI interviewed State Department official Patrick Kennedy (p. 204).
Comey acknowledged that FBI general counsel James Baker originally believed it was appropriate to charge Hillary Clinton with violating various laws regarding the mishandling of classified information (p. 230).
Note: Baker later changed his mind.
Comey says he sees no further reason to investigate Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified email and claims “There’s no serious person who thinks there’s a prosecutable case there” (p. 84).
The Russia investigation
Comey said he first got information about Americans who might be working with Russians the last week of July 2016 when “an allied nation” reported “conversations their ambassador had in [London] England with [Trump campaign associate] George Papadopoulos.” Comey says the talks were “about stolen emails that the Russians had that would be harmful to Hillary Clinton.”
The FBI opened an investigation into “four Americans.” Comey will not name them. He says “at least some” of the Americans were affiliated with the Trump campaign but insists the probe was not into Trump or the Trump campaign (pp. 23, 79, 136-138, 140, 142, 161).
Context: Around this time, the FBI reportedly applied to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to wiretap four Americans. The FISC judge rejected the application.
Comey says if anybody at the FBI was collecting information prior to the last week of July 2016, he was unaware or doesn’t recall it now. If Comey’s general counsel Baker received information prior to this time directly from the Democratic National Committee law firm Perkins Coie, Comey says he didn’t know about it and Baker didn’t inform him. Comey doesn’t think it’s noteworthy that Baker would have kept this secret from him (pp. 23, 79, 136-138, 140, 142).
Comey later said that the FBI first learned of credible evidence that the Russians were trying to interfere in the election with the mid-June 2016 release of “stolen emails of Democrats” by Guccifer 2.0 and the website “DCLeaks” (p. 148).
Comey said he’s not aware of any Justice Department or FBI effort to target the Trump campaign or Trump (p. 66). Comey says neither the Clinton nor the Trump campaigns were subject of an FBI counterintelligence investigation (p. 77-78). Comey said the FBI and DOJ never investigated Trump for political purposes. He says he knows of no request by the Obama administration to do so (p. 162).
Comey says he doesn’t know who drafted the FBI document initiating the Russia probe (p. 24).
Note: It was Peter Strzok who drafted the document.
Comey says he doesn’t think he ever read the FBI document launching the probe and doesn’t remember the FBI’s stated “predicate” for it (pp. 24, 26-27, 30).
Note: A “predicate” is the justification or basis. The FBI is prohibited from starting up investigation on hunches or suspicions and must follow strict procedures.
Analysis: As FBI Director, Comey is saying he didn’t read the documents that opened what arguably became one of the FBI’s most important investigations ever, and he doesn’t know what the justification for opening it was.
When asked about the meaning of “collusion,” Comey says it doesn’t constitute a crime and the word has no particular meaning in terms of U.S. Department of Justice vernacular (p. 27).
Comey says the Russians conspired to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton (pp. 85-86).
Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn
Context: President Trump and Comey dined privately in Feb. 2017. The FBI was investigating National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn about discussions Flynn had with Russia’s ambassador. The discussions were not deemed illegal, but Trump fired Flynn for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about them. Trump reportedly said he needed Comey’s “loyalty.” On another occasion, Trump reportedly told Comey that Flynn is “a good guy” and “I hope you can let it go.” Comey remarked that Flynn was indeed a good guy. Comey says he took Trump’s comments as an improper order to stop the FBI investigation into Flynn (pp. 81, 99, 102-103).
Comey says the president’s comments were enough to potentially launch an obstruction of justice investigation. Comey says he doesn’t remember for sure whether he opened such an investigation, but he doesn’t think so. Comey says Trump’s order had no impact. When asked if he was obstructed, Comey said he’s not sure but doesn’t think so. When asked about a similar statement President Obama made in a different case, Comey says he didn’t take that as obstructive (pp. 81, 99, 102-103).
Comey says he wrote up a memo about Trump’s order and convened a meeting to notify senior FBI staff. He didn’t alert Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Comey says that’s because he knew Sessions would be recusing himself from Russia matters in a few days. Comey says he doesn’t remember who told him in advance that Sessions would probably recuse himself soon (p. 192).
Comey said he decided to keep the information on the Trump “directive” on a “close hold” until future staff changes were made at the Justice Department.
Analysis: As told by Comey, he failed to follow an order from the president. Yet Comey never objected, advised, asked for clarity or discussed the matter with Trump; instead, he pretended everything was okay and agreed that Flynn was a good guy. There’s no word that Trump followed up to find out what became of his “order.” Comey now claims two of his former superiors, Lynch and Trump, did unethical or improper acts; yet in each case, Comey continued serving, and only revealed his concerns after Trump fired him.
Comey says he doesn’t remember if he spoke to the FBI agents who interviewed Flynn. Comey says the agents concluded Flynn was lying to them, but that Flynn didn’t display any of the normal physical manifestations of lying (pp. 105-106).
The Democrats’ Steele ‘dossier’
Comey says he never met Christopher Steele (p. 109, 114).
Note: Steele is the author of the anti-Trump opposition research “dossier” that the FBI presented to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to obtain wiretaps on Trump associate Carter Page.
Comey says he doesn’t know how long the FBI relied on Steele as a source and doesn’t know the particulars of FBI agreements with sources (p. 109, 114).
Comey says that as FBI Director, he never knew that Steele worked for a political opposition research firm hired by a law firm paid by the Democratic National Committee. Comey believed Republicans had first funded the dossier prior to Democrats (p. 112).
Note: Republicans had begged off on the opposition research project prior to Steele being hired. Steele was hired under the Democrats.
Comey says he doesn’t think Steele had any direct knowledge about collusion, coordination, or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia (pp. 123-124).
Comey says he’s not sure how Steele’s dossier got to the FBI. Comey says he doesn’t know what steps the FBI took to verify Steele’s information before or after the FBI presented it to the FISA court. He says the FBI was still “evaluating” the information months after using it in court. Comey says the FBI made efforts to identify Steele’s sources, but he doesn’t remember if they were able to (p. 115, 118).
Comey says he reviewed and signed the Oct. 21, 2016, FBI wiretap application against Carter Page. Comey says he didn’t know details, he simply signed off procedurally. He doesn’t remember if the paperwork was entitled “verified application.” Comey remembers the FBI alleged Page was working for or with the Russian government, but Comey doesn’t recall if the application mentioned “probable cause” (pp. 113, 121, 123).
Analysis: The issue of “verification” of the dossier is crucial. Intel sources say presenting a single unverified fact to the FISA court violates the FBI’s strict Woods Procedures installed to prevent the FBI from obtaining wiretaps based on false or questionable information. There seems to be no recognition by Comey or anyone else of these important FBI rules or how the FBI apparently violated them. Comey appears to have taken a surprisingly hands-off approach in terms of oversight when it came to the controversial wiretapping of a political campaign associate in an election year.
When Comey signed off the wiretap, he says the FBI’s corroboration of Steele’s information was “in its infancy” or only “minimally corroborated.” Comey acknowledges he signed off on the wiretap as “verified” even though the information was unverified. He said he did so because the information came from “a reliable source” with “a good track record” (p. 126).
Note: Steele is a former British intelligence agent.
Comey says it wouldn’t be important for the FBI to tell the FISA court which Democrats or Republicans funded or gathered evidence presented for a wiretap; the court only need be told that there could be political motivations (p. 145). Comey says he doesn’t know if the FBI has a legal duty to present to the court any evidence indicating the target may be innocent, but he says as a matter of “trust,” the FBI should tell the court about strengths and flaws of the evidence (p. 132).
Comey says he didn’t know and still doesn’t know whether Steele was terminated as an FBI source (pp. 125-126).
Note: Steele was reported to have been terminated as a source in late 2016 after improperly leaking anti-Trump dossier information to the press. After his termination, the FBI still reportedly used him as a source, possibly improperly.
Context: Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) referred Steele to the FBI and Justice Department for criminal charges months ago but no known action has resulted.
Comey says he doesn’t know whether Steele had a working relationship with Justice Department attorney Bruce Ohr. Comey says he doesn’t know if it’s proper that Ohr would have been used as a conduit to provide information for a FISA warrant. Comey says he doesn’t know who would have approved Ohr being in the chain and doesn’t know of any other time when such a thing has happened (pp. 130-131).
Context: Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked for the same opposition research firm as did Steele: Fusion GPS.
Comey says he thinks Trump fired him because of the FBI’s Russia investigation (p. 159). He doesn’t know if Trump firing him constitutes obstruction of justice (p. 30), and he doesn’t remember if he talked to McCabe the day of his firing (p. 101).
After he was fired, Comey says he didn’t speak to Trump or Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He says he didn’t speak with Mueller prior to Mueller becoming Special Counsel (p. 139).
Comey says he’s friends with Bill Barr, Trump’s new nominee for Attorney General. Comey says Barr is fit for the job and that he thinks “highly” of him (pp. 92-92).
Comey says he and Mueller are “not friends.” “I admire the heck out of the man, but I don’t know his phone number, I’ve never been to his house, I don’t know his children’s names. I think I had a meal once alone with him in a restaurant. I like him.. I’m an associate of his who admires him greatly. We’re not friends in any social sense” (pp. 60-62).
Note: Comey and Mueller worked together for years. Comey once served as Mueller’s supervisor when Comey was at the Justice Department and Mueller headed the FBI.
Analysis: There’s been much focus on whether President Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey and telling him “I hope you can let this go” (referring to Flynn). But by Comey’s own account, he didn’t follow Trump’s instruction and it didn’t change the Russia probe. On the other hand, Comey, the FBI and Justice Department took many questionable and unusual steps in the Hillary email investigation that benefited Hillary at a time when Comey says he was extremely concerned about Attorney General Lynch’s real or perceived conflicts. Yet nobody apparently questioned whether potential obstruction of justice was an issue in that case.