FBI Director James Comey told a Senate hearing on Wednesday that “it makes me mildly nauseous” that the bureau may have had some impact on the presidential election by announcing in late October that it was reopening an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
But Comey, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that he does not regret the decision he made to reveal in a letter to Congress that the investigation was reopened.
“This was terrible,” he said. “It makes me mildly nauseous that we might have had some impact on the election, but honestly, it wouldn’t change the decision.”
Clinton has placed part of the blame on her election loss on Comey’s Oct. 28 letter to Congress that the FBI had uncovered a new batch of emails but did not know whether they were relevant to the case. Two days before the election, the FBI announced that there was nothing there.
But Clinton, as well as members of her campaign staff, believe that the damage was done, and that Comey’s announcement stalled a rise in the polls.
“If the election was on October 27, I would be your president,” Clinton said on Tuesday.
Under questioning from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Comey defended his decision to reveal that the investigation was being reopened. He said that in advance of the decision, there was debate within the FBI, including talk that it could tip the balance of the election toward Donald Trump.
“Even in hindsight, and this has been one of the world’s most painful experiences, I would make the same decision,” he said.
He also said that it was appropriate to go public with the Clinton investigation but not of the FBI’s probe of potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. That later investigation is ongoing.
Comey said that he felt compelled to announce the reopening the Clinton investigation because he had earlier told Congress that they were done. He said that agents had approached him on Oct. 27 that they had discovered metadata showing that Anthony Weiner’s email server also included a stash of “thousands” of Clinton emails. Weiner, who was married to Clinton aide Huma Abedin, was under investigation for potentially passing sexually explicit messages to a minor.
“I sat there that morning and I could not see a door labeled ‘no action here,'” Comey said, describing his thinking at the time. “I could see two doors — one labeled ‘speak,’ the other labeled ‘conceal.'”
He described the choice to speak as “really bad,” given that there was an election approaching, and conceal, which he said would be “catastrophic.”
“I said to my staff we got to walk into the world of ‘really bad,'” he recalled. “I got to tell Congress that we are restarting this.”
He said that investigators found that “somehow” Clinton’s emails “were being forwarded to Anthony Weiner,” including classified information by Abedin.
He said that investigators concluded, after a review of the emails, that they had found “a lot of new stuff, but we did not find anything that changes our view of her intent.”
Comey also talked about WikiLeaks. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said that arresting its founder, Julian Assange, is a priority. WikiLeaks was responsible for releasing a trove of emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta in the weeks leading up to the election, and U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the source of the hacking of Podesta’s computer can be traced to Russian sources.
But more recently, WikiLeaks published a trove of CIA information revealing its methods for surveillance.
Comey said that WikiLeaks had crossed the line into what he called “intelligence porn,” and that their distinction from traditional journalism is that they acquire information and “just push it out with intention to damage.”