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FBI officials investigated former President Donald Trump “the right way,” former Director James Comey claimed on May 30.
Special counsel John Durham in his recent report highlighted how the FBI opened its probe into Trump ahead of the 2016 election by relying on unverified information from Australia and detailed how the treatment of Trump differed dramatically from how the bureau acted after it received derogatory information regarding Trump’s rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The FBI misled the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), failed to corroborate any substantive allegations in the Clinton-funded dossier on Trump in part because top officials displayed a “serious lack of analytical rigor towards the information that they received,” and ignored hundreds of exculpatory statements made by Trump aides who were being secretly recorded by FBI informants, according to Durham.
Comey, an Obama appointee who was the FBI’s director from 2013 until 2017, defended the bureau in an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday.
There were “definitely” mistakes made in the bureau’s probes, Comey said. “But in complex investigations, there’s always going to be mistakes. It doesn’t mean the FBI isn’t competent, honest, and independent,” he added.
“The FBI is central to the rule of law in America,” Comey said later, when asked about calls to shut down the agency or reduce its funding.
Comey also said the FISC “works very well” and “is incredibly valuable because there’s work that our government has to do against spies and terrorists that has to be done in secret so the spies and the terrorists don’t know what the government is doing to try to stop them.”
Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the FBI can apply to the FISC to surveil foreigners and Americans, and received permission to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page as part of its investigation into Trump and alleged ties to Russia.
The permission came despite the FBI admitting that they had no probable cause to surveil Page, Durham said. The Department of Justice previously determined that two of the four applications concerning Page were invalid.
The FBI has said that FBI leads have already implemented “dozens of corrective actions” for the “missteps” that were identified by Durham. “This report reinforces the importance of ensuring the FBI continues to do its work with the rigor, objectivity, and professionalism the American people deserve and rightly expect,” the bureau said. But a newly released document showed the bureau abused its spy powers against both Black Lives Matter protesters and Jan. 6 defendants, years after the Page fiasco.
Comey Wouldn’t Talk
Comey was one of the former top FBI officials who refused to talk to Durham, a fact unmentioned by MSNBC.
Comey “declined to be interviewed,” according to Durham.
Former official Andrew McCabe, who became acting director after Trump fired Comey, and former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, who admitted to doctoring an email about Page, also refused to be interviewed.
Former FBI Deputy Director Peter Strzok, in charge of the Trump and Clinton investigations, and former assistant director of the FBI Counterintelligence Division Bill Priestap would only talk about matters concerning a single bank, but otherwise declined to be interviewed.
Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) have asked Durham why his office did not take steps to compel testimony from the former officials, in light of how former special counsel Robert Mueller issued approximately 93 percent more subpoenas than Durham did.
“It seems odd that individuals would be allowed to avoid fully cooperating with your office, particularly given your authority to compel testimony and records,” they wrote in a May 23 letter.
Durham was asked to provide answers by May 31.
More on Comey
Comey initially claimed that the FBI properly used its spy powers in the Trump probe but changed his position after the Department of Justice Inspector General reported in 2019 that he’s identified 17 “significant errors or omissions” in the spy applications.
“I was wrong,” Comey admitted during an appearance on Fox News, before alleging the issues stemmed from “sloppiness” and that he was not aware of “the particulars of the investigation.”
During testimony to Congress, Comey said he didn’t know Page was a confirmed CIA asset. Clinesmith had changed an email from the CIA to say Page was not a CIA asset. Comey also said he didn’t know the primary subsource for the Trump dossier was a suspected Russian spy, or that Clinton and other Democrats paid for the dossier.
If he knew what he had come to know, Comey added, he would not have signed off on the applications to spy on Page.
A memorandum later declassified by intelligence officials contradicted a portion of Comey’s testimony.
Trump fired Comey in May 2017, after Comey shared classified information. A watchdog report later confirmed that Comey leaked the information in violation of government policies, but the government declined to prosecute the former director.