During an ABC interview published today, former FBI director James Comey staunchly defended his decision to announce, just 11 days before the 2016 US presidential election, that the FBI was reopening its investigation of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account while she was US secretary of state.
Acknowledging that he found it “painful” to imagine that the move had an impact on the election, Comey argued that his main responsibility was to protect the public’s faith in law enforcement, and in the FBI as an independent institution. Framing his choice as between “speak” and “conceal,” he argued that if it only came out after the election that the FBI had reopened its investigation into Clinton’s emails, that would “destroy the institutions that I love.”
Many Democrats blamed Comey for Clinton’s defeat, as his revelation shifted momentum to Trump in the final news cycles of the campaigns. “James Comey cost her the election,” said Bill Clinton. The polls swung considerably against Hillary Clinton after Comey’s Oct. 28 announcement, and didn’t recover when he declared two days before the election that the investigation hadn’t actually turned up anything incriminating about her.
Asked by anchor George Stephanopoulos what he would say to Clinton today, Comey said the following, according to ABC’s transcript of the interview:
Hillary Clinton? I—I realize it sounds like I’m pumping my book, “I hope you’ll read those chapters of the book. Not so that you walk away agreeing with my decisions, but that you understand better where they came from. And—and frankly, the kinda person who was trying to make those decisions. Even if you think they’re wrong, then look at how we made those decisions and why.”
And I—I think—look, I haven’t talked about this. I’ve gotten the daylights beat outta me—this is the first time I’ve talked about this. And I’m sure a whole lotta people have a view of me based on that.
And what I’d ask them to do is please try to come into those rooms. Read the book and come into those rooms and see how we tried to make these decisions. And if possible, ask yourselves, “What would I have done, and why?” And you may come out thinking, “I’d’ve done it differently,” but I don’t think you’ll come out thinking that—as Hillary Clinton wrote in her book, I shived her.
I mean, that sounds like I was trying to knife somebody, I was out to get her. And it’s illustration of our polarization here that you’ve got the Trump camp, which I guess thinks I was trying to save Hillary Clinton. They don’t quite explain what I was doing in October.
And then Clinton camp thinks I was trying to shiv Hillary Clinton. Both can’t be true, but in our polarized world, people live in separate bubbles. I would hope both camps will read this and, I hope, see a deeply flawed human surrounded by other flawed humans trying to make decisions with an eye, not on politics, but on those higher values.
Comey’s interview with Stephanopoulos kicks off his media tour around the April 17 release of Comey’s new book A Higher Loyalty.