WASHINGTON, DC — Former FBI Director James Comey defended the FBI’s interview of Michael Flynn, which prompted the former national security adviser’s guilty plea for lying to federal investigators, in closed-door House testimony Monday where Comey faced sharp questions from Republicans about the January 2017 interview.
The FBI interview with Flynn at the White House has come under renewed scrutiny and criticism from Republicans after Flynn’s attorneys questioned the setting last week, although Flynn told a federal judge Tuesday that he was responsible for his false statements about his contacts with then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
A transcript of Comey’s testimony was released publicly Tuesday. The five-hour interview was conducted Monday by the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees.
In the interview, Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, pressed Comey on the purpose of the interview.
“It is not the FBI’s job, unless I’m mistaken, to correct false statements that political figures say to one another. So why did you send two bureau agents to interview Michael Flynn?” Gowdy asked.
“Because one of the FBI’s jobs is to understand the efforts of foreign adversaries to influence, coerce, corrupt the Government of the United States,” Comey responded. “So they were sent there as part of that counterintelligence mission to try and understand why it appeared to be the case that the National Security Advisor was making false statements about his conversations with the Russians to the Vice President of the United States.”
Gowdy also pushed Comey on comments he made in a New York forum earlier this month, in which Comey told a moderator his decision to send two FBI agents to the White House without notifying the White House counsel’s office was something he “probably wouldn’t have done or maybe gotten away with in a more organized administration.”
“I’m just kind of hung up on the phrase ‘gotten away with,'” Gowdy told Comey Monday in the private Capitol Hill interview, according to the transcript.
“In an administration where the rhythm of the context between the FBI and the White House was more established, there would’ve been a strong expectation that we coordinate it through White House Counsel instead of calling the National Security Advisor directly. That’s what I meant by it,” Comey replied.
The House released the testimony transcript, one day after Comey slammed congressional Republicans when he emerged from the closed-door interview on Monday. It was released by House Republicans, just as they did following Comey’s first appearance earlier this month, which was part of the agreement Republicans struck with the former FBI director to secure his testimony.
Leaving the interview Monday, Comey accused Republicans of failing to stand up to President Donald Trump’s attacks on the FBI.
“People who know better, including Republican members of this body, have to have the courage to stand up and speak the truth, not be cowed by mean tweets or fear of their base. There is a truth and they’re not telling it,” Comey told reporters. “Their silence is shameful.”
But Republicans had a starkly different view of Comey’s testimony and his public comments. Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina criticized Comey for saying he bore no responsibility for the FBI’s damaged reputation.
“All you need to know about Dir. Comey’s sanctimonious lecture to Americans today is the fact he takes no responsibility for the erosion of trust in the FBI and DOJ,” Meadows tweeted. “The rampant process abuses and breaches of protocol occurred on his watch. He refuses to be transparent about it.”
And White House press secretary Sarah Sanders responded by tweeting that “Republicans should stand up to Comey and his tremendous corruption – from the fake Hillary Clinton investigation, to lying and leaking, to FISA abuse, and a list too long to name.”
In Comey’s first interview, he defended the FBI’s handling of both the Hillary Clinton and Russia investigations, although Republicans expressed frustration that an FBI lawyer prevented Comey from answering certain questions about the Russia probe.