The normally stoic FBI chief grew emotional as he rejected claims that the FBI was in the tank for Clinton.
FBI Director James Comey is passionately defending the integrity of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email setup, arguing that critics are unfair to suggest that agents were biased or succumbed to political pressure.
“You can call us wrong, but don’t call us weasels. We are not weasels,” Comey declared Wednesday at a House Judiciary Committee hearing. “We are honest people and … whether or not you agree with the result, this was done the way you want it to be done.”
The normally stoic FBI chief grew emotional and emphatic as he rejected claims from Republican lawmakers that the FBI was essentially in the tank for Clinton when it recommended that neither she nor any of her aides be prosecuted in connection with the presence of classified information on Clinton’s private email server. He acknowledged he has “no patience” for such allegations.
“I knew there were going to be all kinds of rocks thrown, but this organization and the people who did this are honest, independent people. We do not carry water for one side or the other. That’s hard for people to see because so much of our country, we see things through sides,” Comey said. “We are not on anybody’s side.”
It was at least Comey’s third appearance on Capitol Hill since the Clinton email probe was closed, but the FBI director’s assurances did not seem to satisfy House Republicans, who said the decision not to prosecute Clinton or her aides smacked of favoritism.
“I would be in big trouble, and I should be in big trouble, if I did something like that,” said Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.). “There seems to be different strokes for different folks. I think there’s a heavy hand coming from someplace else.”
Comey insisted there is no double standard, though he said there would be serious consequences — short of criminal prosecution — if FBI personnel handled classified information as Clinton and her aides did.
“Mary or Joe, if they did this in the FBI, would not be prosecuted,” the FBI director said. “They’d be in big trouble, but they would not be prosecuted. That wouldn’t be fair.”
Republicans suggested there were numerous potential targets of prosecution in the case and repeatedly questioned prosecutors’ decisions to grant forms of immunity to at least five people in connection with the probe.
“You cleaned the slate before you even knew. … You gave immunity to people that you were going to need to make a case if a case was to be made,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas).
GOP lawmakers focused in particular on the Justice Department’s decision to give a form of immunity to Clinton lawyers Cheryl Mills and Heather Samuelson to obtain computers containing emails related to the case.
“Laptops don’t go to the Bureau of Prisons,” Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said. “The immunity was not for the laptop, it was for Cheryl Mills.”
The FBI director repeated an explanation he gave for the first time at a Senate hearing Tuesday, that the deal to get the laptops was wise because subpoenaing computers from an attorney would be complex and time consuming.
“Anytime you know you’re subpoenaing a laptop from a lawyer that involved a lawyer’s practice of law, you know you’re getting into a big megillah,” Comey said.
Republicans also questioned why Mills and Samuelson were allowed to attend Clinton’s July 2 interview at FBI headquarters as her attorneys, given that they had been interviewed as witnesses in the email probe.
“I don’t think there’s any reasonable prosecutor out there who would have allowed two immunized witnesses central to the prosecution and proving the case against her to sit in the room with the FBI interview of the subject of that investigation,” said Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), a former U.S. attorney. He said those circumstances signaled that the decision not to prosecute Clinton was already made when she sat down for the interview.
“If colleagues of ours believe I am lying about when I made this decision, please urge them to contact me privately so we can have a conversation about this,” Comey said. “The decision was made after that because I didn’t know what was going to happen during the interview. She would maybe lie in the interview in a way we could prove.”
Comey also said it wasn’t the FBI’s role to dictate who could or couldn’t act as Clinton’s lawyers. “I would also urge you to tell me what tools we have as prosecutors and investigators to kick out of the interview someone that the subject says is their lawyer,” the FBI chief said, while acknowledging he’d never encountered such a situation before.
Ratcliffe said Clinton and the others should have been called to a grand jury, where no one is allowed to accompany the witness.
Comey did say there was no chance of charges against Mills or Samuelson by the time of the Clinton interview.
“We had already concluded we did not have a prosecutable case against Cheryl Mills or Heather Samuelson at that point. If we they were targets of our investigation, maybe we would have canceled the interview,” the FBI director said. ‘Frankly, our focus was on the subject. The subject at that point was Hillary Clinton.”
Despite the second-guessing from Republicans, Comey said he remained convinced that prosecution wasn’t even remotely appropriate given the facts.
“As painful as this is for people, this was not a close call,” he said. “This was done by pros in the right way.”