Former FBI Director James Comey admitted that the bureau made "embarrassing" and "concerning" mistakes when it obtained court warrants to spy on former Donald Trump aide Carter Page, but defended the FBI’s 2016 investigation into alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russia.
"This was an investigation that was appropriately predicated, and that had to be opened, and it was – in the main – conducted in the right way", Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
However, commenting on the Horowitz report on the FBI-led Trump-Russia probe, which detailed significant omissions and errors in how the bureau led the investigation, Comey said:
"This reflects on me entirely, and it’s my responsibility… I’m not looking to shirk responsibility".
At the same time, the 59-year-old said that there is no indication that the bureau and its employees did "bad things on purpose", referring to an FBI lawyer falsifying an email to support the bureau’s surveillance of Donald Trump’s former campaign adviser Carter Page.
Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Lindsey Graham said that the omissions and errors that were made by the FBI while it was investigating the alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russia "weren’t random", but politically oriented. "They were trying to take down the president", Graham told the hearing.
"What astounds me the most is that the director of the FBI in charge of this investigation, involving a sitting president, is completely clueless about any of the information obtained by his agency to throw suspicion over the document", said Lindsey Graham.
To that, Comey replied that if he had been aware of the mistakes, he would not have approved the surveillance of Trump’s adviser.
Why is this important?
Comey’s testimony comes almost a month before the upcoming presidential election. For the past four years, the Trump administration has been dealing with accusations from Democrats that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election. The president has repeatedly dismissed the allegations, calling them a witch hunt that was orchestrated to undermine his presidency.
In 2017, Trump fired Comey after the FBI decided to investigate the Democrats' allegations. The firing prompted the Department of Justice to open an independent investigation into the issue. It was led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, whose report found no evidence that the Trump campaign had colluded with the Kremlin, although it did not exonerate the president.
The Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe recently sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee in which he said that in 2016, Russian intelligence sent information to US officials that Hillary Clinton had given the green light to a proposal "to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by Russian security services”.
Commenting on the letter, Comey said:
"I don’t understand Mr Ratcliffe’s letter well enough to comment on it. It’s confusing … I really don’t know what he’s doing".