WASHINGTON – FBI Director James Comey refused Wednesday to confirm under oath whether the bureau is investigating accusations related to whether the Obama administration spied on President Trump’s election campaign and transition team, while revealing his loss of confidence in the Justice Department and Loretta Lynch.
At the beginning of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., asked Comey if the FBI was investigating whether information about the Trump team was leaked to the media.
The director replied that he could not confirm that in public without authorization from the Justice Department, which, he said, would have initiated any such investigation.
Grassley indicated he would ask the Justice Department to provide the authorization to confirm if there is such an investigation.
Comey had also refused to confirm that FBI was conducting an investigation into leaks to the press on the Trump team by the Obama administration during an open hearing by the House Intelligence Committee on March 20.
On Wednesday, during what was a regularly scheduled annual oversight hearing on the FBI, Grassley asked Comey a series of questions related to possible spying on the Trump team, but Comey gave the same response each time: He could not reply in a public forum.
Grassely noted that even former Obama administration intelligence chiefs had said there was no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, so, he asked Comey, “Where is all this speculation about collusion coming from?”
Again, Comey wouldn’t answer in public.
“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,’’ Grassley said.
“For the good of the country,” said the chairman, “I hope that the FBI gets to the truth soon — whatever that may be.”
Grassley specifically wants to know more about a dossier the FBI used to obtain a FISA warrant to allegedly spy on Trump associates. The dossier was also used to justify allegations of collusion between the Russian government and the Trump team. But the dossier’s most sensational allegations have been discredited.
The chairman has written several letters to the FBI questioning the use of the dossier. He said the FBI’s responses have had several “material inconsistencies.”
When Grassley asked Comey on Wednesday why he had not replied, Comey again said he could not explain in public. He also said he believed he could explain the inconsistencies in a closed hearing.
The dossier was compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, who worked for an opposition research firm that had connections to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Comey refused to answer in public whether the FBI paid Steele for the dossier.
The chairman pressed on, asking, “Was the FBI aware that Mr. Steele reportedly paid his sources who in turn paid their sub-sources to make the claim in the dossier?”
Again, the director said he could not answer.
Grassley also grilled Comey about a recent New York Times report of an email from a Democrat operative that described assurances made by former Attorney General Loretta Lynch that she would protect Clinton by making sure the FBI’s investigation of her email scandal “didn’t go too far.”
Grassely wanted to know who had sent the email and other details, but, again, Comey refused to respond in an open hearing.
“That’s not a question I can answer in this forum, Mr. Chairman, because it would call for a classified response,” Comey replied. “I have briefed leadership of the intelligence committees on that particular issue, but I can’t talk about it here.”
You can expect me to follow up on that point,” Grassley said.
Comey also told the committee Bill Clinton’s meeting with Loretta Lynch at an Arizona airport undermined his confidence in the Justice Department’s ability to investigate Clinton and in Lynch’s leadership.
“A number of things had gone on which I can’t talk about yet, that made me worry that the department leadership could not credibly complete the investigation and decline prosecution without grievous damage to the American’s people’s confidence in the Justice system,” Comey said.
Earlier this week, Clinton blamed Comey and the FBI’s investigation of her email scandal for her election loss.
Apparently in response, President Trump tweeted on Tuesday: “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! The phony Trump/Russia story was an excuse used by the Democrats as justification for losing the election. Perhaps Trump just ran a great campaign?”
President Trump previously said he had no plans to fire Comey.
But, asked last month whether it was too late to fire the director, the president replied, “No, it’s not too late, but, you know, I have confidence in him. We’ll see what happens. It’s going to be interesting,”
President Obama appointed Comey to a 10-year term in 2013.
Comey did tell Grassley he had never been an anonymous source of leaks in the media on the investigation of Clinton and the Trump campaign, and that he had never authorized anyone in the FBI to do so.
The director also said he had never shared classified information related to those investigations with the media.
At one point, Grassley admonished Comey: “It is frustrating when the FBI refuses to answer this committee’s questions, but leaks relevant information to the media. In other words, they don’t talk to us, but somebody talks to the media.”
Under questioning from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, Comey confirmed that classified emails were sent to Anthony Weiner, the now-estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
While defending his decision to re-open the Clinton email investigation just a few weeks before the election, Comey testified, “Somehow, her emails were being forwarded to Anthony Weiner, including classified information.”
Later in the hearing, the director explained, “His then-spouse Huma Abedin appears to have had a regular practice of forwarding emails to him for him to print out for her so she could deliver them to the secretary of state.”
The FBI dropped its investigation into Abedin and Weiner for mishandling classified material, just as it declined to recommend to the Justice Department that it charge Clinton for doing the same.
Comey claimed, “Really the central problem we had with the whole email investigation was proving people . . . had some sense they were doing something unlawful. That was our burden, and we were unable to meet it.”
However, as WND reported in July, just after the FBI declined to recommend charging Clinton, former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy said there was no doubt Clinton violated the one statute that mattered: the one in which her intent was irrelevant.
“Hillary Clinton checked every box required for a felony violation of Section 793(f) of the federal penal code (Title 18): With lawful access to highly classified information she acted with gross negligence in removing and causing it to be removed it from its proper place of custody, and she transmitted it and caused it to be transmitted to others not authorized to have it, in patent violation of her trust.”
McCarthy accused Comey of essentially rewriting the relevant statute by “inserting an intent element that Congress did not require.”
The former federal prosecutor explained that was a misreading of the law because, “The lack of intent to harm our country is irrelevant. People never intend the bad things that happen due to gross negligence.”
Reiterating that analysis in an article in National Review on Wednesday, McCarthy’s argument essentially boiled down to one key point: “Prosecutors are not required to prove motive.”
For some reason that McCarthy could not fathom, in this instance, Comey continued to maintain they do.