James B. Comey, the former FBI director who started the Russia investigation, expressed confusion over why special counsel Robert S. Mueller III didn’t conclude whether President Trump tried to obstruct justice.
In an interview with Lester Holt of “NBC Nightly News” on Wednesday, Comey said it is the role of the special counsel to make a judgment so political appointees, such as the attorney general, aren’t left to make the call. That Mueller left it up to Attorney General William P. Barr to decide on obstruction of justice “doesn’t make sense on its face,” Comey said.
“I don’t know why he didn’t and don’t know what combination of law and fact led him to that,” Comey said, who urged that Mueller’s final report be made public.
Comey also weighed in on Holt’s now-famous 2017 interview with Trump soon after he was fired. In that conversation, Trump admitted to Holt that he had “this Russia thing” on his mind when he fired Comey.
Comey told Holt that when he saw that Trump interview he “thought, ‘that’s potentially obstruction of justice and I hope somebody is going to look at that.’ ” Comey has made similar comments in the past regarding whether Trump obstructed justice by firing him.
While Republicans have been very critical of the investigation after Mueller did not establish there was a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign, Comey believes the report actually rehabs the FBI’s image by showing that the organization is not “a nest of vipers and spies, but an honest group of people trying to find out what is true.”
Some Republicans, including Trump ally and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), have suggested opening a congressional probe into the FBI’s handling of the Russia investigation.
President Trump has said that the two-year investigation was a “disgrace” and should “never happen to a president again.”
But Comey posited this scenario when asked whether he should have opened up an investigation in the first place:
Imagine the Iranians interfere in the election to help elect Barack Obama, an Obama aide meets with the Iranians to talk about the dirt they have, then President Obama’s national security adviser lies to the FBI about his communications with the Iranians, then President Obama asks Comey to drop the investigation of that, fires Comey and said he did so while thinking about the “Iranian thing.” Then he invited mullahs to the Oval Office and told them he lifted a lot of pressure by firing Comey.
“Who on earth doesn’t think the FBI should investigate that?” Comey asked. “The hypocrisy is revealed just by changing the names,” he said.