WASHINGTON, May 3, (Agencies): FBI Director James Comey said on Wednesday it made him feel “mildly nauseous” to think he had an impact on the 2016 US presidential election, but that he had no choice but to announce just days before the vote that the agency had reopened a probe into Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee that one reason for the FBI’s renewed interest in Clinton’s emails ahead of the Nov 8 election was that investigators had found emails, some of which were classified, forwarded by Clinton’s assistant Huma Abedin to her husband who was not authorized to see such information.
It was Comey’s most impassioned defense yet of his decision to tell Congress in a letter last October that the FBI had uncovered a new trove of Clintonrelated emails, an announcement that angered Democrats. Clinton said on Tuesday that her election bid was derailed in part by Comey’s announcement about the renewed probe of her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
She also said her bid to defeat Republican Donald Trump was damaged by the WikiLeaks release of her campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails, allegedly stolen by Russian hackers. Comey told the Senate panel he felt he had to speak out last year about the email probe because he had repeatedly told Congress the investigation was over. “To not speak about it would require an act of concealment in my view,” Comey said. “Concealing, in my view, would be catastrophic.”
The FBI, which is supposed to remain politically neutral, said a few days later that the new emails did not change an earlier decision not to recommend criminal charges against Clinton, but many Democrats believe the political damage was done.
Senators on Wednesday asked Comey why he decided to go public with the investigation of Clinton but not the investigation of whether Trump or his associates had inappropriate contact with Russian agents. Comey tried to convince senators he made the right choice. He said the probe into whether Russian hacking activities and American citizens was a classified investigation in its early stages – far different from the almost completed email probe.
“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,” he said. US intelligence agencies determined in December that Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic emails in an effort to sway the election toward Trump. The FBI is investigating possible collusion between Trump surrogates and the Russian government.
On Wednesday, Comey said the investigation was ongoing and declined to comment on whether Trump, or anyone else, had been ruled out as a possible subject. Comey said Russia represents “the greatest threat of any nation on earth given their intention and capability” and that its government is still involved in American politics.
In related news, Clinton on Tuesday laid the blame for her defeat in last year’s White House race squarely at the feet of FBI director James Comey and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, saying they had “scared off” voters. The Democrat, speaking at a charity luncheon in New York, said she took “absolute personal responsibility” for a series of campaign blunders that contributed to her loss to Donald Trump. But she pointed a finger at Russian hacking and interference and at the Federal Bureau of Investigation director, who revealed just before the November 8 election he was re-opening a probe into Clinton’s use of a personal email server while serving as secretary of state.
“I was on the way to winning until a combination of Jim Comey’s letter on October 28th and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me, but got scared off,” Clinton said. “If the election had been on October 27, I’d be your president.” Trump responded hours later with a pair of snarky tweets, attacking Clinton and saying the Russia affair was a Democratic ploy to justify her loss to him. In January the US intelligence community announced it had concluded Russia interfered in the election — and that Putin himself ordered a campaign to undermine the US democratic process and harm Clinton’s electability in order to help Trump win. Clinton described the Russian president as someone who was “not a member of my fan club.”