FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday that thinking about his potential impact on the 2016 presidential election makes him “mildly nauseous,” but that doesn’t mean he won’t defend his actions leading up to the decisive day.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had a seemingly decisive edge over President Donald Trump on Oct. 27, less than two weeks before Election Day. But a letter Comey sent to Congress on Oct. 28 shifted the momentum.
Comey told Congress the FBI had found new emails they believed were relevant to a closed investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state under former President Barack Obama.
The newly discovered emails reopened the investigation, but turned up no new information. But by then the letter had reignited news stories and discussion about whether Clinton had acted dangerously and disingenuously for using a private email server while conducting state business. The letter allowed her political opponents to again attack her for a story that had weighed on her campaign from the start.
Comey said he got a bit sick to think the letter may have what led to Trump’s victory, but he said he didn’t have any other choice but to send it. Not doing so amounted to “concealment,” which he said would have been “catastrophic.”
The Department of Justice under Obama reportedly disagreed with Comey’s assertion. The FBI doesn’t often say whether they are conducting a particular investigation, and DOJ officials reportedly didn’t think this time should be any different.
And yet that’s not the only investigation Comey has confirmed of late. A man who says he doesn’t want him or his agency to generate headlines in fact generated plenty of them when, in March, he confirmed to a House Intelligence Committee hearing that the FBI is investigating connections between the Russian government and Trump’s campaign.
Comey, once thought of as a pillar of non-partisan credibility, has lately found himself criticized by both Republicans and Democrats. Democrats, of course, are upset about the Oct. 28 letter that appears to have swung the election. Republicans have been angered about articles sourced to the FBI that they believe painted Trump in a negative light.
Though Comey might not agree that his letter was a mistake, it’s clear that sending it has taken him from a name known around Washington, D.C., to a name known across the country.