In a Thursday press conference, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that revelations that former FBI Director James B. Comey had decided not to charge Hillary Clinton months before terminating an agency investigation into her use of a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State vindicates President Trump’s decision to fire him. Of the day’s reports, Sanders said, “If it is as accurate as they say it is, that would certainly give cause and reason that Jim Comey was not the right person to lead the FBI.”
Trump fired Comey in May.
On Thursday, Republicans Sens. Charles Grassley of Iowa and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina revealed that their investigation has discovered that Comey may have been drafting a statement to exonerate Clinton in April or May 2016, months before the FBI probe came to an end and before investigators interviewed Clinton and witnesses. “Conclusion first, fact-gathering second—that’s no way to run an investigation,” Judiciary Committee members Graham and Grassley wrote. “The FBI should be held to a higher standard than that, especially in a matter of such great public interest and controversy.”
It was after having reviewed transcripts of interviews of Comey’s aides that they learned of the former FBI Director’s draft "exoneration statement." In their letter, the senators wrote: “According to the unredacted portions of the transcripts, it appears that in April or early May of 2016, Mr. Comey had already decided he would issue a statement exonerating Secretary Clinton,” the senators said.
Graham and Grassley went on: “That was long before FBI agents finished their work. Mr. Comey even circulated an early draft statement to select members of senior FBI leadership. The outcome of an investigation should not be prejudged while FBI agents are still hard at work trying to gather the facts.”
Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016, was investigated by the FBI for using a private email address and server to handle classified information while serving as secretary of state.
It was on July 5, 2016, during the presidential campaign, that Comey denounced Clinton as “extremely careless” albeit it in his opinion not criminal in her handling of classified communications. Comey did not recommend criminal charges against Clinton.
In their letter Grassley and Graham wrote:
“OSC [Office of Special Counsel] attorneys questioned two witnesses, presumably Mr. Rybicki [then-Director Comey’s Chief of Staff Jim Rybicki] and Ms. Anderson [Principal Deputy General Counsel of National Security and Cyberlaw Trisha Anderson], about Mr. Comey’s July 5, 2016, statement exonerating Secretary Clinton. The transcript of what appears to be Mr. Rybicki’s interview contains the following exchanges:
Q: … We talked about outcome of the investigation, … how did
the statement – I guess the idea of the statement come about?
A: Sure. We’re talking about July 5th, correct?
Q: Yes. I’m sorry. July 5th.
A: The – so in the – sometime in the spring – again, I don’t remember exactly when, I – early spring I would say, the Director emailed a couple folks – I can’t remember exactly; I know I was on there, probably the Deputy Director, not the full, what I’ll call the briefing group, but a subset of that – to say, you know, again knowing sort of where – knowing the direction the investigation is headed, right, what would be the most forward-leaning thing we could do, right, information that we could put out about it…And -- and, you know, by that -- you know, so that -- and he sent a draft around of, you know what - what it might look like. . . .”
The interview transcript believed to be with Anderson, collaborated that account.
“I’m not entirely sure exactly when the idea of the public statement um first emerged. Um it was, I just, I can’t put a precise timeframe on it um but [redaction]. And then I believe it was in early May of 2016 that the Director himself wrote a draft of that statement,” the transcript states.
The two Republican senators wrote “Conclusion first, fact-gathering second — that’s no way to run an investigation,” the senators wrote in a letter sent to current FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI should be held to a higher standard than that, especially in a matter of such great public interest and controversy.”
The interview transcripts from an investigation the Office of Special Counsel into whether Comey violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits government employees from influencing an election. The investigation was closed after Comey was fired. However, the heavily redacted transcripts of interviews with Rybicki and Anderson were given to Grassley after he requested them.