Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asked FBI Director James Comey why he decided just 11 days prior to the general election to announce that he was reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton. From her perspective and the perspective of Hillary Clinton and many other Democrats, it was that one action that led to Clinton’s electoral loss.
But Comey maintains that he was between a rock and a hard place. He was faced with speaking or concealing. Speaking about the investigation was bad, because of the proximity to the election and how it would be perceived by the general public. But concealing would have been ‘catastrophic.’ So, he had to go with speaking.
And he said if he had to go back and face the same situation again, he’d make the same decision.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CALIF.): Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Director, I have one question regarding my opening comment and I view it as a most important question and I hope you will answer it. Why was it necessary to announce 11 days before a presidential election that you were opening an investigation on a new computer without any knowledge of what was in that computer?
Why didn’t you just do the investigation as you would normally with no public announcement?
COMEY: A great question, senator. Thank you. October 27, the investigative team that had finished the investigation in July focused on Secretary Clinton’s emails asked to meet with me.
So I met with them that morning, late morning, in my conference room. And they laid out for me what they could see from the metadata on this fella Anthony Weiner’s laptop that had been seized in an unrelated case. What they could see from the metadata was that there were thousands of Secretary Clinton’s emails on that device, including what they thought might be the missing emails from her first three months as secretary of state.
We never found any emails from her first three months. She was using a Verizon BlackBerry then and that’s obviously very important, because if there was evidence that she was acting with bad intent, that’s where it would be in the first three months.
FEINSTEIN: But they weren’t there.
COMEY: Look, can I just finish my answer, senator?
COMEY: And so they came in and said, we can see thousands of emails from the Clinton email domain, including many, many, many from the Verizon Clinton domain, BlackBerry domain. They said we think we got to get a search warrant to go get these, and the Department of Justice agreed we had to go get a search warrant.
So I agreed, I authorized them to seek a search warrant. And then I faced a choice. And I’ve lived my entire career by the tradition that if you can possibly avoid it, you avoid any action in the run-up to an election that might have an impact. Whether it’s a dogcatcher election or president of the United States, but I sat there that morning and I could not see a door labeled no action here.
I could see two doors and they were both actions. One was labeled speak, the other was labeled conceal. Because here’s how I thought about it, I’m not trying to talk you into this, but I want you to know my thinking. Having repeatedly told this Congress, we are done and there’s nothing there, there’s no case there, there’s no case there, to restart in a hugely significant way, potentially finding the emails that would reflect on her intent from the beginning and not speak about it would require an active concealment, in my view.
And so 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 be catastrophic, not just to the FBI, but well beyond. And honestly, as between really bad and catastrophic, I said to my team we got to walk into the world of really bad. I’ve got to tell Congress that we’re restarting this, not in some frivolous way, in a hugely significant way.
And the team also told me, we cannot finish this work before the election. And then they worked night after night after night, and they found thousands of new emails, they found classified information on Anthony Weiner. Somehow, her emails are being forwarded to Anthony Weiner, including classified information, by her assistant, Huma Abedin. And so they found thousands of new emails and then called me the Saturday night before the election and said thanks to the wizardry of our technology, we’ve only had to personally read 6,000. We think we can finish tomorrow morning, Sunday.
And so I met with them and they said we found a lot of new stuff. We did not find anything that changes our view of her intent. So we’re in the same place we were in July. It hasn’t changed our view and I asked them lots of questions and I said okay, if that’s where you are, then I also have to tell Congress that we’re done. Look, this is terrible. It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election. But honestly, it wouldn’t change the decision.
Everybody who disagrees with me has to come back to October 28 with me and stare at this and tell me what you would do. Would you speak or would you conceal? And I could be wrong, but we honestly made a decision between those two choices that even in hindsight — and this has been one of the world’s most painful experiences — I would make the same decision.
I would not conceal that, on October 28, from the Congress. And I sent the letter to Congress, by the way, people forget this, I didn’t make a public announcement. I sent a private letter to the chairs and the rankings of the oversight committees.
FEINSTEIN: Did you …
COMEY: I know it’s a distinction without a difference in the world of leaks, but it is — it was very important that I tell them instead of concealing. And reasonable people can disagree but that’s the reason I made that choice and it was a hard choice. I still believe in retrospect the right choice, as painful as this has been. And I’m sorry for the long answer.
FEINSTEIN: Well, let me respond. On the letter, it was just a matter of minutes before the world knew about it. Secondly, my understanding — and staff has just said to me — that you didn’t get a search warrant before making the announcement.
COMEY: I think that’s right. I think I authorized and the Department of Justice agreed we were going to seek a search warrant. I actually don’t see it as a meaningful distinction.
FEINSTEIN: Well, it’s very — it’s very hard — it would’ve been — you took an enormous gamble. The gamble was that there was something there that would invalidate her candidacy and there wasn’t. So one has to look at that action and say, did it affect the campaign? And I think most people who have looked at this say, yes, it did affect the campaign, why would he do it? And was there any conflict among your staff, people saying do it, people saying don’t do it; as has been reported?
COMEY: No, there was a great debate. I have a fabulous staff at all levels and one of my junior lawyers said, should you consider that what you’re about to do may help elect Donald Trump president? And I said, thank you for raising that, not for a moment because down that path lies the death of the FBI as an independent institution in America. I can’t consider for a second whose political fortunes will be affected in what way.
We have to ask ourselves what is the right thing to do and then do that thing. I’m very proud of the way we debated it, and at the end of the day, everyone on my team agreed we have to tell Congress that we are restarting this in a hugely significant way.
FEINSTEIN: Well, there’s a way to do that. I don’t know whether it would work or not, but certainly in a classified way carrying out your tradition of not announcing investigations. And you know, I look at this, exactly the opposite way you do. Everybody knew it would influence the investigation before, that there was a very large percentage of chance that it would. And yet, that percentage of chance was taken and there was no information and the election was lost.
So it seems to me that before your department does something like this, you really ought to — because Senator Leahy began to talk about other — other investigations. And I think this theory does not hold up when you look at other investigations, but let me go on to 702 because you began your comment saying how important it is…