A report by the Justice Department’s inspector general found no evidence of partisan bias and concluded the investigation was initiated for a legitimate reason, but Republican lawmakers took advantage of these errors to cast doubt broader on the investigation of Russia as a whole.
Committee Chairman Senator Lindsey Graham and other Republicans sought to take some responsibility on Comey for errors found in the FBI’s requests for secret warrants to monitor communications from Carter Page, who briefly served as as advisor to the Trump campaign in 2016.
“For me, this is a blatant failure of how the system works,” said Graham, a staunch supporter of Trump, who criticized Comey for being “completely ignorant” of mistakes made in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants ( FISA).
Comey said he accepts responsibility for certifying those warrants given what he called negligence, but it was an aspect of all investigative work.
“The overall investigation was very important,” Comey said. “The page slice? Much less. ”
Comey said the FISA issues were likely the problem of a process that had become too diffuse, with information falling through the crack and resulting communication gaps.
Flynn treated differently: Comey
He defended the FBI’s decision to launch the counterintelligence investigation into possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign. Among other reasons, he noted that former campaign manager Paul Manafort was working with a man whom U.S. officials considered to be a Russian intelligence agent, as detailed in a recent Republican-led Senate report.
Comey expressed concern that Barr – who took criticism from Democrats and Mueller himself for his comments downplaying the special advocate’s findings – had questioned the links investigation predicate between Russia and Trump’s associates.
“The idea that the attorney general thinks it was an illegitimate attempt to investigate mystifies me,” he said.
Comey also questioned Barr’s Justice Department’s decision to request that the charges against Michael Flynn be dismissed, despite Trump’s former national security adviser twice pleading guilty to lying to the FBI. before changing his legal team and withdrawing his plea.
A judge is reviewing the Justice Department’s request and learned on Tuesday that Flynn’s lawyer discussed the case with Trump, a violation of standards.
“This is deeply concerning because this guy is being treated in a way that no one has yet been treated,” Comey said of the Flynn case.
Comey was sacked by Trump in May 2017. Republicans joined with Trump in despising Comey, but Democrats did not embrace him either, angered by his public statements made during the Hillary Clinton emails affair. which they believe contributed to its downfall. The saga of the FBI’s role in the 2016 election is the subject of this week’s Showtime miniseries, The Comey rule.
LISTEN: Director Billy Ray talks to Q about Comey’s Rule:
q16:20Comey Rule director talks about doing justice to the real political drama of the 2016 US election
Comey, when asked by Democrats on a recent New York Times report on the state of Trump’s finances, said large debt could lead foreign entities to leverage the president.
Comey said Trump has not allayed those concerns.
“I don’t know if the Russians have anything on President Trump, but it’s hard to explain his conduct, his statements in any other way. Especially his refusal to criticize Vladimir Putin, even in public.
WATCH l Comey tells CBC News in 2018 about his tough choices during the campaign:
Democrats lamented the retrospective nature of Wednesday’s hearing, seeking to argue that the Russia investigation was valid and that the committee’s time could be better spent on other matters.
“Most people think we should talk about other things, except maybe President Trump,” Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said, while Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont called the hearing a “mission. policy ”for the president.
Newly published information called into question
For their part, several Republicans cited the case of a former FBI lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, who pleaded guilty in August to dealing with a submitted CIA email with a request that he say that Page n was not an agency source, when in fact he was.
“I don’t know anything about Mr. Clinesmith other than what I’ve read,” Comey said.
Republicans have also seized on reports that Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, former Congressman from Texas and Trump loyalist, has just declassified even though he said he did not know if it was true. In a letter to Graham, Ratcliffe said that at the end of July 2016, US intelligence agencies obtained a “glimpse” of Russian espionage by alleging that Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, had “Approved a campaign plan to stir up scandal against ‘Trump’.
But Ratcliffe added that US intelligence agencies “do not know the accuracy of this allegation or the extent to which the analysis of Russian intelligence may reflect an exaggeration or fabrication.”
Comey said the news had “not ringed any bell” with him since his time as head of the FBI.
“I read Mr. Ratcliffe’s letter, which I frankly have trouble understanding,” he said.
The Mueller inquiry found that Russia was seeking to interfere in the 2016 election to boost Trump’s candidacy, but failed to establish a criminal plot despite team Trump’s contact with various Russian individuals.
Mueller reviewed several episodes in which Trump sought to block the Russia investigation. In his only appearance on Capitol Hill, Mueller said he believed there was enough evidence to accuse Trump of obstruction had he not been president.
The Graham-led Senate panel has previously heard from Rod Rosenstein and Sally Yates, both former deputy attorneys general, and anticipated testimony from ex-FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, who ran the agency for a time. after Trump sacked Comey.