At a hearing on Russia's involvement in criminal cyberattacks that tilted the presidential election in President-elect Donald Trump's favor, FBI Director James Comey made a jaw-dropping — and rather late — display of discretion when he refused to reveal whether the FBI is investigating reports of collusion between the Russian government and intermediaries for Trump.
Anyone who followed the last weeks of the presidential campaign that saw now-President-elect Donald Trump badly beaten in the popular vote and eking out a 70,000-vote margin in key states knows that any undue interference would have been enough to swing the election in Trump’s favor.
There were two major things that have been cited as having an undue influence on the election, especially in its final days. One was the Russian cyberattacks, and the other was Comey’s intrusion on the election with a letter to Congress that improperly reopened the email story without justification. Those elements combined in a moment of excruciating irony Tuesday.
At a hearing on Russia’s criminal cyberattacks, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) asked FBI Director James Comey if the FBI is investigating reports that the Russian government had direct contact with Trump associates prior to the election, and if such an investigation would be made public before Trump’s inauguration.
Comey’s response would be laughable, if it were not so painful (emphasis mine):
WYDEN: Mr. Comey, after the election, as you know, the foreign minister, the Russian foreign minister was quoted in various news reports saying that the Russians had had contacts with people associated with the Trump campaign. Now, that may or may not be true. There is, however, extensive press reporting on relationships between the Russians and the individuals associated with both the Trump campaign and the incoming administration. My question for you, Director Comey, is, has the FBI investigated these reported relationships? And if so, what are the agencies findings?
COMEY: Thank you, Senator. I would never comment on investigations, whether we have one or not, in an open forum like this. So I really can’t answer it one way or another.
WYDEN: Will you provide an unclassified response to these questions and release it to the American people prior to January 20th?
COMEY: I’m sorry, you said will I?
WYDEN: Yes, will you provide an unclassified response to the question I’ve asked, and as I’ve said, it’s been reported widely, it’s on the Reuters news service, widely reported. Will you provide an unclassified response to question I asked and release it to the American people prior to January 20?
COMEY: Sir, I’ll answer any question you ask. But the answer will likely be the same as I just gave you. I can’t talk about it.
WYDEN: I will tell you, I think the American people have a right to know this. And if there is delay in declassifying this information and relating it to the American people, releasing it to the American people, and it doesn’t happen before January 20th, I’m not sure it’s going to happen. And that’s why I’m troubled, and I hope that you will make a declassified statement with respect to the questions I’ve asked.
Comey, of course, did take the unprecedented and outrageous action of commenting on the Hillary Clinton email investigation after she had been completely cleared, reopening the issue in the closing days of the campaign despite a complete lack of justification to do so.
And he also took the outrageous and unprecedented action of holding a lengthy press conference to excoriate Clinton, without presenting any evidence, while announcing his decision not to file charges.
Now that he, along with the Russians, helped deliver the election to Donald Trump, it is galling to see him suddenly invoke the kind of discretion he never seemed concerned with when it was appropriate, and which now serves only to protect that ill-gotten and disastrous result.