FBI Director James Comey privately argued against having his bureau sign onto a statement saying the Russian government was meddling in the U.S. election, CNBC first reported on Monday, citing “a former FBI official.”
A source familiar with the interagency discussions confirms to The Huffington Post that Comey declined to do so because, specifically, he was concerned the statement was coming too close to the election. The source who spoke to HuffPost is not a former FBI official and spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
The statement that Comey declined to sign off on ultimately went forward anyway. On Oct. 7, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence stated: “The U.S. intelligence community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.”
But Comey’s decision to keep the FBI off the statement ― out of concern for the electoral impact it might have ― has taken on new significance in light of his handling of a separate matter involving Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Last Friday, the FBI director sent a letter to Congress alerting lawmakers to the discovery of a computer that has material that may or may not be pertinent to the investigation into Clinton’s use of private email. In a separate letter to FBI colleagues, Comey stressed that he understood the sensitivity in making such an announcement so close to the election, but felt it was in the public’s interest to hear about the potential breakthrough and worried the discovery would have leaked prior to Election Day.
Comey has been subsequently criticized ― by Democrats, ex-prosecutors and even some Republicans ― for violating protocol that says Department of Justice officials should generally avoid making these types of announcements so close to an election.
One difference between the Russia statement and the Clinton investigation is that Comey had previously kept Congress abreast about the latter while declining to discuss the former. Thus, he may have felt an obligation to continue to update lawmakers on the status of the investigation.
Comey and Attorney General Loretta Lynch said on Monday that they are working quickly to sift through the newly discovered emails, which were found on the laptop of Anthony Weiner, a former congressman and the estranged husband of longtime Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Weiner is under federal investigation for allegations that he traded sexually explicit messages with an underage girl.
In a hastily assembled conference call on Monday, the Clinton campaign attacked Comey forcefully for what it deemed a “double standard” when it came to disclosing information prior to an election.
“During a House Judiciary Committee hearing ... he was asked more than a dozen times about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia,” said campaign manager Robby Mook, “and each time he declined to comment.” The dichotomy was “nothing short of jaw-dropping,” he added.
Top Democrats have demanded more information on the newly discovered emails prior to the election. And on Monday afternoon, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), said he was not satisfied with the responses from the FBI and DOJ at this point.
Zach Carter contributed reporting. This post has been updated with details from a Monday conference call.