WASHINGTON — FBI Director James Comey on Wednesday said it would have been “catastrophic” not to reveal shortly before the election that the FBI had reopened its probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
“Even in hindsight, I would make the same decision,” Comey said.
Comey said he faced a “terrible” decision between the “bad” option to speak and the “catastrophic” choice of concealing the restarted investigation.
But he said, “It makes me mildly nauseous to think we had some effect on the election.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told Comey: “You took an enormous gamble. The gamble was there was something there that would invalidate her candidacy and there wasn’t.” Feinstein added, “Yes, it did affect the campaign.”
Comey made his comments before the Senate Judiciary Committee in a regular oversight hearing, where he faced hard questions about the differences in the way he handled the probes of Clinton’s email server and whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia.
Feinstein and other Democrats repeatedly asked why Comey revealed the FBI’s restarted email investigation 11 days before the election, while he did not publicly reveal until nearly two months ago that the FBI had opened a probe into the Trump campaign last July.
“I can’t consider for a second whose political futures will be affected and in what way,” Comey said. “We have to ask ourselves what is the right thing to do and then do it.”
He said he had been consistent in his treatment of both investigations.
“We didn’t say a word about [the Trump probe] until months into it and then the only thing we’ve confirmed so far about this is the same thing with the Clinton investigation — that we are investigating,” Comey said.
“And I would expect, we’re not going to say another peep about it until we’re done,” he said.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), committee chairman, opened the hearing with a harsh critique of Comey’s handling of the investigations of Clinton and Trump, telling Comey that “a cloud of doubt hangs over the FBI’s objectivity.”
Grassley said, “We need to know whether there was anything improper going on between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or if these allegations are just a partisan smear campaign that manipulated our government into chasing conspiracy theories.”
Comey acknowledged the Justice Department’s inspector general has questioned him in a review of the FBI’s Clinton investigation. “I want that inspection, I want my story told,” he said.
In July, Comey held a news conference to announce the FBI had closed its probe of Clinton’s use of a private server for her State Department emails, including some classified material. He said the bureau had found no prosecutable offense but called Clinton’s actions “extremely careless.”
But on Oct. 28, Comey sent a letter to key lawmakers saying the FBI had found thousands of Clinton emails on the laptop of former Rep. Anthony Weiner, who represented parts of Queens and Brooklyn and was married to Clinton aide Huma Abedin, as it probed Weiner for allegedly sexting with a teenager.
Clinton, speaking in Manhattan Tuesday, took some blame for losing the election but said she was on her way to winning “until a combination of Jim Comey’s letter on Oct. 28 and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts” among people inclined to vote for her.
Comey said agents reviewed 40,000 emails, found 3,000 of them were work-related and that 12 were classified — but none of them created “national security damage.” Two days before the election, Comey said the new email cache turned up nothing.
As with Clinton, the prosecutors pressed no charges against Abedin or Weiner because the FBI could not prove criminal intent — a conclusion questioned by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
Late Tuesday evening, President Donald Trump tweeted: “FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds!”
Asked by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) whether the FBI gave a “free pass” to Clinton, Comey on Wednesday stood by his conclusion and said, “There was not a prosecutable case there.”