Comey cracks cred­i­bil­ity of for­mer bosses Lynch, Ses­sions

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY AN­DREA NOBLE

In one fell swoop, for­mer FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey chipped away Thurs­day at the cred­i­bil­ity of two of his for­mer bosses, say­ing Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion At­tor­ney Gen­eral Loretta E. Lynch’s han­dling of the Hil­lary Clin­ton email in­ves­ti­ga­tion deeply con­cerned him and rais­ing the specter that there may be more to the story of At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions’ prob­lem­atic ties to Rus­sia.

Al­though Pres­i­dent Trump’s sus­pected in­ter­fer­ence in a gov­ern­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion was nom­i­nally the topic of the hear­ing of the Se­nate Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, one of Mr. Comey’s big­gest bomb­shells in­volved Ms. Lynch and what he de­scribed as an at­tempt to change the FBI’s de­scrip­tion of its probe of Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mrs. Clin­ton’s email scan­dal. The change was meant to dove­tail with how Mrs. Clin­ton’s sup­port­ers were

char­ac­ter­iz­ing the probe.

“At one point, [Ms. Lynch] di­rected me not to call it an ‘in­ves­ti­ga­tion’ but in­stead to call it a ‘mat­ter,’ which con­fused me and con­cerned me,” Mr. Comey said of Ms. Lynch. “That was one of the bricks in the load that led me to con­clude I have to step away from the de­part­ment if we are to close this case cred­i­bly.”

Mr. Comey said the lan­guage sug­gested by Ms. Lynch was trou­ble­some be­cause it closely mir­rored what the Clin­ton cam­paign was us­ing.

Ac­knowl­edg­ing that he didn’t know whether it was in­ten­tional, Mr. Comey said Ms. Lynch’s re­quest “gave the im­pres­sion the at­tor­ney gen­eral was look­ing to align the way we talked about our in­ves­ti­ga­tion with the way a po­lit­i­cal cam­paign was de­scrib­ing the same ac­tiv­ity.”

Mr. Comey told law­mak­ers that Ms. Lynch’s in­ter­ven­tion was a key fac­tor in his de­ci­sion to buck Jus­tice De­part­ment tra­di­tion and pub­licly an­nounce in July the de­tails of Mrs. Clin­ton’s case and why he de­cided on his own not to bring a le­gal case against the for­mer first lady.

Dur­ing nearly three hours of tes­ti­mony, Mr. Comey said the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ad­vised him on the tone in which he should dis­cuss the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Mrs. Clin­ton’s mis­han­dling of clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion on her pri­vate email server.

Dur­ing a con­gres­sional hear­ing in May — which Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein cited as part of the rea­son he rec­om­mended the dis­missal of Mr. Comey — the then-FBI di­rec­tor said he took the un­usual step in part be­cause he be­lieved that a June 2016 air­port tar­mac meet­ing be­tween Ms. Lynch and Mrs. Clin­ton’s hus­band, for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, had un­der­mined the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s cred­i­bil­ity to in­de­pen­dently in­ves­ti­gate the case.

A per­son fa­mil­iar with the dis­cus­sion about se­man­tics said it took place be­tween Ms. Lynch and Mr. Comey in Septem­ber 2015 and that the at­tor­ney gen­eral said she had used the term “mat­ter” in re­sponse to me­dia in­quiries to en­sure she did not con­firm or deny an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The per­son said the di­rec­tor ex­pressed no is­sue at that time with us­ing the term.

De­spite his dis­com­fort, Mr. Comey said, he agreed to Ms. Lynch’s lan­guage.

He told law­mak­ers he con­cluded, “This isn’t a hill worth dy­ing on, and so I just said, ‘OK.’ The press is go­ing to com­pletely ig­nore it — and that’s what hap­pened.”

Ques­tions on Ses­sions

There were also un­com­fort­able mo­ments for Mr. Ses­sions. The ousted FBI di­rec­tor, who tes­ti­fied as a pri­vate cit­i­zen, raised in­trigue about the “va­ri­ety of rea­sons” why the at­tor­ney gen­eral re­cused him­self from the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Mr. Comey tes­ti­fied Thurs­day that af­ter con­sult­ing with other top FBI of­fi­cials, he opted not to in­form Mr. Ses­sions of the pres­i­dent’s com­ments about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into for­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Michael Flynn be­cause they ex­pected him to be re­cused from all Rus­sia-re­lated is­sues “for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons.”

“What was it about the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s own in­ter­ac­tions with the Rus­sians or his be­hav­ior with re­gard to the in­ves­ti­ga­tion that would have led the en­tire lead­er­ship of the FBI to make this de­ci­sion?” asked Sen. Ron Wy­den, Ore­gon Demo­crat.

Mr. Comey said there were rea­sons he couldn’t dis­cuss in a non­clas­si­fied set­ting that of­fi­cials be­lieved would make Mr. Ses­sions’ “con­tin­ued en­gage­ment in a Rus­sia-re­lated in­ves­ti­ga­tion prob­lem­atic.”

“And so we were con­vinced, and had al­ready heard that the ca­reer peo­ple were rec­om­mend­ing that he re­cuse him­self, that he was not go­ing to be in con­tact with Rus­sia-re­lated mat­ters much longer, and that turned out to be the case,” Mr. Comey said.

Mr. Ses­sions re­cused him­self in March from the Jus­tice De­part­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Moscow’s med­dling in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion has since been turned over to spe­cial coun­sel — for­mer FBI Di­rec­tor Robert Mueller. The at­tor­ney gen­eral came un­der ad­di­tional scru­tiny just be­fore the March 2 an­nounce­ment when news broke that he had met twice with Rus­sian Am­bas­sador Sergey Kislyak dur­ing the course of the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in which he stumped for Mr. Trump.

The Jus­tice De­part­ment de­nied Mr. Comey’s ac­count that Mr. Ses­sions re­mained si­lent when the FBI chief re­quested that the at­tor­ney gen­eral pro­tect him from one-on-one meet­ings with Mr. Trump.

Jus­tice De­part­ment spokesman Ian Prior said the at­tor­ney gen­eral re­sponded to Mr. Comey’s ap­peal “by say­ing that the FBI and De­part­ment of Jus­tice needed to be care­ful about fol­low­ing ap­pro­pri­ate poli­cies re­gard­ing con­tacts with the White House.”

Mr. Prior also re­jected Mr. Comey’s ac­count that Mr. Ses­sions re­cused him­self from the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion in part be­cause of rev­e­la­tions of his own deal­ing with Rus­sian of­fi­cials. Mr. Prior said the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s re­cusal was based solely on his prior par­tic­i­pa­tion and high-pro­file role in Mr. Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

Mr. Comey was asked Thurs­day about the de­gree to which he thought Mr. Ses­sions had ad­hered to his re­cusal, in­clud­ing whether he was fol­low­ing that de­ci­sion in re­la­tion to his role in Mr. Comey’s fir­ing.

“That’s a ques­tion I can’t an­swer. I think that’s a rea­son­able ques­tion,” Mr. Comey said. “If I was fired be­cause of the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, why was the at­tor­ney gen­eral in­volved in that chain, I don’t know.”

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Ver­mont Demo­crat, said Mr. Comey’s tes­ti­mony left him with fur­ther ques­tions about the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s re­cusal that he in­tends to raise next week when Mr. Ses­sions tes­ti­fies be­fore the Se­nate Ap­pro­pri­a­tions sub­com­mit­tee on com­merce, jus­tice and sci­ence.

“I have sought for months to clar­ify At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ses­sions’ con­tacts with Rus­sian of­fi­cials,” Mr. Leahy said.

Al­though Mr. Trump was the only per­son with author­ity to fire the FBI di­rec­tor, both Mr. Ses­sions and Mr. Rosen­stein is­sued memos sup­port­ing the fir­ing.

Faiza Pa­tel, co-di­rec­tor of the Bren­nan Cen­ter’s Lib­erty and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Pro­gram, said she thought Mr. Comey was par­tic­u­larly harsh on Ms. Lynch in say­ing her Jus­tice De­part­ment was com­pro­mised by the tar­mac meet­ing while re­serv­ing judg­ment and not try­ing to ex­pound on the rea­sons for Mr. Ses­sions’ ac­tions.

“Comey was us­ing a bit of a dou­ble stan­dard in terms of how he judged both at­tor­neys gen­eral,” Ms. Pa­tel said. “That could be be­cause of the fact that Ses­sions rec­om­mended Comey’s dis­missal, so maybe he is be­ing overly care­ful.”

As at­tor­ney gen­eral, Loretta E. Lynch sup­pos­edly in­sisted that the in­quiry into Hil­lary Clin­ton’s emails be called a “mat­ter” rather than an “in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.