Democrats confront FBI director over Clinton, Trump probes – Politico
Democrats went after FBI Director James Comey on Friday during a briefing about Russian election-season hacking, airing months of frustrations over what they see as the bureau’s unequal treatment of the two presidential candidates.
Comey’s responses did little to help his case. Democrats left the room disappointed, with some saying they no longer trusted Comey’s impartiality.
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“I still hold the opinion that he is a good man, but I question some of his decisions now,” said House Oversight ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). “When I left the hearing, I felt a great sense of disappointment.”
Democrats are furious about the gap between the FBI chief’s public comments about the probe into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, and Comey’s ongoing silence about any investigations into ties between President-elect Donald Trump and Moscow.
In one of the most loaded exchanges, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) “laid into” Comey, according to sources. Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee after thousands of DNC emails were released as part of the suspected Russian hacking.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also confronted Comey during the briefing, sources said, taking up a line of questioning similar to Wasserman Shultz.
Later, in a Democratic caucus meeting, Pelosi told lawmakers she was frustrated Comey continues to refuse to say whether the bureau has opened an investigation into a link between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The briefing, said House Intelligence ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), was “contentious” and “at times, heated.”
Schiff said the briefing, which he called “very necessary,” was heavily attended by members on both sides of the aisle.
Other Democrats publicly panned Comey after the meeting, with several rank-and-filers saying they’d lost faith in the FBI chief.
Arizona Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego was blunt: “What I heard in the briefing, it made me not trust him.”
Comey “sacrificed our electoral integrity” when he announced publicly that the FBI had reopened the investigation into Clinton’s email server days before the election, added Rep Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). “That’s a very high price for our democracy to pay.”
After what he heard in the meeting, Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, walked away with “serious concerns,” said Sara Severs, Walz’s deputy chief of staff.
“He has serious questions about his ability to act in the impartial manner you would expect from the Director of the FBI,” she added.
In a separate briefing on Thursday, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and other Democrats lit into Comey over his handling of Clinton’s email investigation and announcement of new investigatory steps right before the election, sources familiar with the exchange said.
Comey was pressed on when he knew about the emails, leading some Democrats to believe he contradicted himself on the chain of events, those sources said.
Demcorats also want Comey to publicly disclose any FBI probes into links between Trump and his associates and the Kremlin. Reportedly, intelligence officials last Friday briefed Trump on unverified allegations of collusion between Moscow and Trump aides the FBI has investigated.
But Comey, in his first public appearance on Capitol Hill since the election, declined to confirm or deny any investigation.
“The irony of your making that statement here, I cannot avoid, but I’ll move on,” quipped Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), referencing Comey’s public statements about the Clinton email case.
Earlier this week, every House Judiciary Democrat signed on to a letter sent to Comey urging him to reveal any investigation.
But Democrats, for all their criticisms, were hesitant to call for Comey’s resignation.
“It’s not that I don’t think he should step down or not, I just don’t trust the Trump administration to actually appoint somebody that would be any better,” Gallego said.
Cummings, asked whether Comey should step down: “One time, there was no jury. And now there is a jury and the jury is still out.”
Martin Matishak, Burgess Everett and Ken Vogel contributed to this report.