FBI Director James B. Comey overstated key findings involving the Hillary Clinton email investigation during testimony to Congress last week, according to people close to the inquiry.
In defending the probe, Comey offered seemingly new details to underscore the seriousness of the situation FBI agents faced last fall when they discovered thousands of Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s emails on the computer of her husband, Anthony Weiner.
“Somehow, her emails were being forwarded to Anthony Weiner, including classified information,” Comey said, adding later, “His then-spouse Huma Abedin appears to have had a regular practice of forwarding emails to him for him I think to print out for her so she could then deliver them to the secretary of state.”
At another point in the testimony, Comey said Abedin “forwarded hundreds and thousands of emails, some of which contain classified information.’’
Neither of those statements is accurate, said people close to the investigation. The inquiry found that Abedin did occasionally forward emails to her husband for printing, but it was a far smaller number than Comey described, and it wasn’t a “regular practice,” these people said. None of the forwarded emails were marked classified, but a small number — a handful, one person said — contained information that was later judged to contain classified information, these people said.
Justice Department and FBI officials are considering whether and how to clarify the misstatements, said people familiar with the matter. The issue of the misstatements was first reported by ProPublica.
Comey spent hours testifying at the Senate hearing defending his handling of the investigation of Clinton’s use of a private server for work while she was secretary of state, saying it made him “mildly nauseous” to think he might have affected the outcome of the presidential election but insisting that he had no regrets and would not have handled it differently.
Comey’s handling of the Clinton inquiry has come under sustained criticism from Democrats — including Clinton — who say it was a major factor that contributed to her presidential election defeat in November to Donald Trump. On Oct. 28, less than two weeks before Election Day, the director notified Congress that new Clinton-related emails had been found on a laptop belonging to Weiner.
Days later, investigators obtained a search warrant to examine about 3,000 messages on the device that were work-related. Of those, Comey said, agents found a dozen that contained classified information, but they were messages investigators had already seen.
The misstatements in testimony aren’t the first time Comey has overstated a key fact in a high-profile probe.
A year ago, while speaking at a security forum in London, the director miscalculated the price the FBI had paid for a technique to crack into a locked iPhone belonging to one of the dead suspects in a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif.
At the event, he said the cost of the phone hacking tool was “more than I will make in the remainder of this job, which is seven years and four months, for sure.’’ Based on Comey’s salary, his comment strongly implied the bureau paid at least $1.3 million to get into the phone, which belonged to Syed Rizwan Farook. Farook and his wife killed 14 people during a December 2015 terrorist attack.
People close to that case said the FBI actually paid about $900,000.