FBI Director James Comey said Wednesday he stands behind his letter that shook up the final days of last year’s presidential election — and he would do it again.
Still, he said his decision to tell Congress that the FBI had found new emails that could be relevant to Hillary Clinton’s private email server was not an easy one.
“This was terrible. It makes me mildly nauseous to think we might have had some impact on the election … I would make the same decision,” Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee during an oversight hearing.
At the panel’s routine hearing Wednesday, the FBI director got grilled about the investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the election and into Clinton’s use of a private email server at the State Department. Some Republicans defended Comey’s actions and pressed him about what evidence underpins accusations of Trump campaign contacts with Russia.
While the campaign was still ongoing, Comey did not reveal the existence of the Russia probe, but he did reveal to Congress that the FBI discovered thousands of message from the Clinton email domain on the computer of disgraced politician Anthony Weiner, who was married to Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Democrats repeatedly questioned the FBI director about his decision-making process, which Comey defended.
Comey said he tried during his career to avoid taking any action ahead of an election that could potentially affect the outcome. When considering whether to reveal the discovery of the emails, Comey said he considered the “catastrophic” implications of concealing the findings and the “very bad” effects of them potentially becoming public.
“I have to go with really bad,” he said.
Comey notified lawmakers about the Clinton-related findings because he “testified under oath repeatedly” that the investigation was over, he said. Comey said he thought he treated the investigations the same because he did not reveal either probe when they initially began.
In a public appearance Tuesday, Clinton said she was on track to win November’s election until a combination of factors, including Comey’s Oct. 28 letter to Congress saying that he would review new emails potentially related to her server, derailed her. While the letter’s effect on the election is impossible to ascertain, some Democrats have derided on the decision, especially given that the FBI’s review did not lead it to change its previous conclusions about Clinton.
Comey confirmed in March that the FBI is conducting a counterintelligence investigation into Russian influence on the election, including any possible contacts between then-candidate Donald Trump’s associates and Moscow. He said the investigation began in July of last year, and critics have questioned why he did not publicly reveal that probe but sent the letter to Congress about the Clinton emails.
President Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion with Russia, and Moscow has denied the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusions that it meddled in the election.