An unfazed Federal Bureau of Investigation chief James Comey on Wednesday strongly defended his controversial decision to alert Congress just days before the United States general election about the probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails, saying concealing the probe developments would have been “catastrophic”.
“It was a hard choice, I still believe in retrospect the right choice,” the FBI Director told senators at a judiciary committee hearing on oversight of his agency.
“I can’t consider for a second whose political fortunes will be affected,” he said, a day after both the sitting US President and the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee sharply criticised him for his role in the outcome of last year’s presidential election.
Comey said he stands behind his letter to Congress that shook up the final days of last year’s presidential election and he would do it again.
Still, he said his decision to tell Congress that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had found new emails that could be relevant to Clinton’s private email server was not an easy one.
“This was terrible. It makes me mildly nauseous to think we might have had some impact on the election ... I would make the same decision,” Comey, 56, said.
Asked why he publicly announced an investigation into Clinton’s emails days before the election, Comey said, “concealing in my view would be catastrophic.”
“It makes me mildly nauseous to think we might have had some impact on the election. But honestly it wouldn’t change the decision.”
“This has been one of the world’s most painful experiences. I would make the same decision. I would not conceal that on October 28 (days before the November 8 election).”
Comey said he notified lawmakers about the Clinton-related findings because he “testified under oath repeatedly” that the investigation was over.
Comey said he thought he treated the investigations the same because he did not reveal either probe when they initially began.
Comey has become an almost equally divisive figure for Republicans and Democrats for his impact on the elections. His revelation that the FBI was examining additional emails from Clinton that were discovered on disgraced former Republican Anthony Weiner’s computer, has led Democrats, including Clinton herself, to say it cost them the White House.
“I was on the way to winning until a combination of Jim Comey’s letter on October 28 and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me and got scared off,” the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee said on Tuesday in an interview to CNN.
Following those remarks, Trump criticised Comey the night before the hearing.
“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?” Trump said in a pair of tweets on Tuesday.
At the panel’s hearing, Comey got grilled about the investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the election and into Clinton’s use of a private email server at the State Department.
Some Republicans defended Comey’s actions and pressed him about what evidence underpins accusations of the Trump campaign contacts with Russia.
While the campaign was still ongoing, Comey did not reveal the existence of the Russia probe, but he informed Congress that the FBI discovered thousands of message from the Clinton email domain on the computer of disgraced politician Anthony Weiner, who was married to Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Democrats repeatedly questioned about his decision-making process, which Comey defended.