James Comey isn’t sorry. In remarks to a defense and intel industry crowd in a windowless basement ballroom in an Alexandria hotel, the FBI director made a rousing defense of the way he handled the scandals that dominated the last presidential election.
After giving a brief speech, Comey took questions from former National Counterterrorism Center director Michael Leiter about the FBI investigations related to both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
“The last year—it’s almost a year now—has been both difficult, and easier than you might think,” Comey began. “And I’ll tell you, I’ve never been prouder of the FBI. What makes it easy is, we’re not on anybody’s side, ever. We’re not considering whose ox will be gored by this action or that action, whose fortunes will be helped by this or that. We just don’t care. And we can’t care.”
Comey’s July 5 decision not to refer Hillary Clinton to the Justice Department for prosecution infuriated Republicans, even as his protracted and pointed criticisms of Clinton before announcing his decision infuriated Democrats.
Then, 11 days before the election, Comey sent a letter to members of Congress announcing the investigation had been re-opened—a news story the Clinton team later said significantly staunched their momentum and played a role in their loss. Then just two days before the election, Comey announced that the Clinton inquiry had, for a second time, been resolved. In the political world, heads were spinning.
But not, apparently, at the FBI. Comey said on Wednesday night that through that firestorm, he never doubted his course.
“The FBI made these decisions in a high-quality way,” he told Leitner. “The painful part is that we confuse people. And the reason we confuse people is, most people see the world differently than we do, especially in a hyper-partisan environment. Most people are wearing glasses that filter the world according to side.”
Then he needled Congress, alluding to the testimony he gave before the House intelligence committee last week, confirming that the FBI was investigating communications between Trump associates and Russian government figures.
“This is a challenge I face when I testify in front of Congress, and it’s not a criticism of Congress,” Comey said. “They see facts as to, ‘How it will affect my side, how does that argument affect my side.’ And when they encounter people—and I’m just one of 37,000 that are like this at the FBI—who never consider side, it’s confusing. Like, ‘Ok, so you’re trying to help this person and help that person?’”
He said one of his daughters showed him a tweet late last summer that said, “That Comey is such a political hack. I just can’t figure out which party.”
Comey said he showed the Tweet to his senior staff at the FBI.
“I said, ‘That is the greatest compliment. We confuse people because a lot of people can’t imagine people who aren’t considering side.”
“Now, we’re not fools,” he continued. “I know when we make a hard decision, a storm’s going to follow. But honestly, I don’t care.”