FBI Director James Comey on Monday dropped a bombshell, discussing an ongoing investigation into possible coordination between Russian officials and President Donald Trump’s campaign — but refused to confirm a probe into illegal leaking by high-ranking government officials.
It was, according to legal experts, classic Comey.
“This is Comey. You’re dealing with this strange duck.”
“This is Comey,” former U.S. attorney Joseph diGenova told LifeZette. “You’re dealing with this strange duck.”
Comey’s long-awaited testimony before the House Intelligence Committee also included a flat denial of any evidence that former President Barack Obama ordered wiretapping of Trump, as the president alleged in a series of tweets two weeks ago.
“I have no information that supports those tweets,” Comey said.
That was not a surprise. But Comey went further, confirming that the FBI is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and indicating that the probe includes possible coordination with American citizens — including those associated with Trump. He acknowledged that it is standard practice for the agency not to confirm investigations.
“But in unusual circumstances where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so, as Justice Department policies recognize,” he said. “This is one of those circumstances … And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
But Comey refused repeated attempts from Democratic members of the committee to discuss specific individuals, what the FBI has found or other evidence.
“I’m trying to be studiously vague, here,” he said at one point.
While he was willing to confirm an investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, however, Comey struck a different posture with regards to illegal leaking of classified information to the media. Comey said he considers that a serious matter but added that he could not confirm the agency was investigating it.
“I hope people watching know how seriously we take it,” he said in response to a question by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina). “But I don’t want to confirm it by saying that we’re investigating it.”
To diGenova, who served as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia under President Ronald Reagan, it is unclear why Comey believes one matter is appropriate to talk about but the other is off-limits.
“I find it very difficult to understand why the director is talking about anything,” he said. “I would think this would fall in the same category.”
Gowdy asked about stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post that quoted unnamed current and former intelligence officials who described surveillance of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak after the election but before Trump took office.
“I’m not gonna comment on those particular articles, because I don’t want to in any circumstance compound the criminal act by confirming that it was classified information,” Comey said. “But in general, yes, it’s a serious crime, and it should be.”
DiGenova questioned that explanation. “It’s fairly obvious there is classified information in these stories,” he said.
Comey has a history of unorthodox behavior in high-profile criminal investigations tinged with politics. He mystified Republicans last summer by detailing a litany of questionable actions by 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton involving her handling of classified information as secretary of state before announcing his conclusion that criminal charges were not warranted.
He then enraged Democrats by announcing weeks before the election that he was reopening the closed case after the discovery potentially classified emails on a computer in the possession of longtime Clinton confidante Huma Abedin. Though he later announced that investigators had found nothing to alter his conclusion, many Democrats to this day blame him for costing Clinton the election.
Comey sought to draw a distinction between his handing of the case and the current one.
“Some folks may want to make comparisons to past instances where the Department of Justice and the FBI have spoken about the details of some investigations,” he said. “But please keep in mind that those involve the details of completed investigations.”
DiGenova blasted Comey’s performance throughout the entire Clinton email investigation. He said he does not understand why Trump has allowed Comey to retain his position.
“It is inexplicable,” he said.
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