The Post's Devlin Barrett has confirmed ProPublica's reporting that Comey misstated key details of an investigation into Hillary Clinton at a hearing last week.
Specifically at issue are Comey's statements that:
- Top Clinton aide Huma Abedin “forwarded hundreds and thousands of emails” from Clinton's private email server to her husband, former congressman Anthony Weiner, as part of a “regular practice” of forwarding emails for Weiner to print out for Clinton, and …
- These emails contained classified information.
Barrett reports that this first claim is just not true and the second one obscures the fact that the few classified emails weren't marked classified at the time:
Neither of those statements is accurate, according to people close to the investigation. The investigation found that Abedin did occasionally forward emails to her husband for printing, but it was a far smaller number than described by Comey, and it wasn’t a “regular practice,’’ these people said. None of the forwarded emails were marked classified but a small number — a handful, one person said — contained information that was later judged to contain classified information, these people said.
To be clear, these weren't just small details that emerged from Comey's testimony on Wednesday; they were the headline for many new outlets that covered Comey's visit to the Senate Judiciary Committee, including The Post.
They were also key to Comey's testimony, in that he used them to defend his decision to disclose the new Clinton emails just 11 days before Election Day. Facing questions from Democrats about why he did what he did, Comey cited these facts as proof of the seriousness of the email discovery and the need to say something.
Democrats, including Clinton, have decried Comey's decision to offer details of an incomplete investigation so late in the election as pointless, extraordinary and even the difference between Clinton and Donald Trump winning the election. In candid remarks last week, Clinton posited that she would have been elected president if the election had been held Oct. 27 — the day before Comey's announcement.
The reason this is so troubling for Comey is because it calls into question his saving grace in this entire situation: his reputation as a nonpartisan, highly competent top law enforcement official.
Comey's first turn in the national spotlight came in 2007, when he delivered gripping testimony about a scene straight out of a movie. With Attorney General John Ashcroft confined to a bed in the intensive-care unit in 2004, Comey, his deputy, received a call that White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andy Card were on the way to the hospital to persuade the ill Ashcroft to reauthorize President George W. Bush's domestic surveillance program. Comey beat them there, and Ashcroft didn't sign the document.
“I was angry,” Comey testified. “I thought I just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me.”
It was a moment of principle over politics, it seemed, and it has been cited as a key part of Comey's bio ever since.
Comey would go on to be a bipartisan top political appointee when President Barack Obama picked him as FBI director in 2013. Over the course of the 2016 election, Comey found himself drawing huge amounts of criticism from both Republicans (for not recommending charges against Clinton in summer 2016) and then Democrats (for his late disclosure about the Abedin-Weiner emails). More recently, President Trump seems to have oscillated on how he feels about Comey, with Comey announcing that the FBI is investigating alleged contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Through it all, there has always been an underlying belief among those who pay close attention to these things that Comey is a serious, apolitical public servant who may have made questionable decisions but whose heart was in the right place.
Getting details of such import wrong in his much-watched testimony to Congress certainly doesn't help him on the competence front; indeed, it's difficult to see how he could get them so wrong.
And for Democrats looking for reasons to believe that Comey was out to get them late in 2016, this will only feed the beast — fairly or unfairly.