The transcript of the House interview of former FBI Director James Comey has been released and one of the things that jumps off the page is Rep. Trey Gowdy’s grilling of him.
You can read the entire transcript here, and we have included the important information for this story.
Mr. Gowdy. Who at the FBI has the authority to launch a counterintelligence investigation into a major political campaign, and would that eventually have to be approved by you?
Mr. Comey. I don’t know for a variety of reasons. I’ve never encountered a circumstance where an investigation into a political campaign was launched, and so I don’t know how that would be done. And — so that’s my best answer to that question.
Mr. Gowdy. When did you learn there was a counterintelligence investigation into potential Russian ties with the Trump campaign?
Mr. Comey. I was briefed sometime at the end of July that the FBI had opened counterintelligence investigations of four individuals to see if there was a connection between those – any of those four and the Russian effort.
Mr. Gowdy. And who were those four individuals?
Mr. Comey. I don’t think that the Bureau has said that publicly, and so I’m not going to answer that unless it’s okay with the government.
Mr. Gowdy. Well, lucky for us we have the Bureau right here with us.
Ms. Bessee. Mr. Chairman, my understanding, this is an unclassified setting, and also anything that goes to the special counsel’s ongoing investigation would be off limits for this witness to be able to respond to if they are individuals that are currently being looked at or investigated as part of the Russian investigation, the ongoing Russian investigation.
Mr. Gowdy. Let me make sure I understand the Bureau’s position. The former Director, actually the Director at the time, can confirm publicly that there is a counterintelligence investigation, but he cannot now tell us who that counterintelligence investigation involved?
Ms. Bessee. That is correct.
Mr. Gowdy. Director Comey, can you tell us the factual predicate that may have led to the launching of that counterintelligence investigation?
Mr. Comey. I don’t think that I can describe the factual predicate for two reasons: I don’t remember precisely; and to the extent I remember, I think those are classified facts that implicate the concern the Bureau just expressed.
Mr. Gowdy. Some of our friends in the media use the word “collusion” from time to time. What is the crime of collusion?
Mr. Comey. What is the crime of collusion? I do not know. I’ve never heard the term “collusion” used in the way it’s been used in our world over the last couple years before that. I don’t know of a crime that involves collusion. I think in terms of conspiracy or aiding and abetting.
Mr. Gowdy. With counterintelligence investigations, is there always a criminal component or sometimes a criminal component?
Mr. Comey. Counterintelligence investigations involve an effort to understand the plans and intentions and activities of a foreign adversary. Sometimes that leads to the use of criminal tools to disrupt. Sometimes it involves other tools to disrupt. So criminal is an element of counterintelligence investigations always because it’s a potential tool to disrupt.
Mr. Gowdy. Do you recall your March 2017 testimony in an open setting before the House Intelligence Committee?
Mr. Comey. In a general way.
Mr. Gowdy. It was when I believe the Bureau first confirmed the existence of a counterintelligence investigation.
Mr. Comey. Okay. I remember that. I remember generally it was in March, but sure.
Mr. Gowdy. Do you recall in what way you used the word “criminal” and at what point in your testimony?
Mr. Comey. Without looking at the testimony, I don’t.
Mr. Gowdy. Do you recall Rod Rosenstein’s memo appointing special counsel?
Mr. Comey. No, I don’t.
Mr. Gowdy. What is the difference between collusion and conspiracy?
Mr. Comey. I don’t know because I don’t know what collusion means. It’s a term I haven’t heard in my career in the Justice Department, so I don’t know.
Mr. Gowdy. Let’s assume that collusion and conspiracy are synonyms, and we’ll just use the word “conspiracy” because the word “collusion,” despite its nonstop use, has no criminal consequences. Would it be a crime to access the DNC server or Podesta’s email without permission or in an unlawful way?
Mr. Comey. That’s a hard one to answer in the abstract. It’s potentially a crime whenever someone either, without authorization, enters a computer system or conspires to enter a computer system without authorization.
Mr. Gowdy. Did the FBI, in July of 2016, have any evidence anyone in the Trump campaign conspired to hack the DNC server?
Mr. Comey. Did we have evidence in July of ’16 that anyone in the Trump campaign conspired to hack the DNC server? The challenge in answering that is — and please don’t take this nonanswer to imply that there is such information. I just — I don’t think that the FBI and special counsel want me answering questions that may relate to their investigation of Russian interference during 2016. And I worry that that would cross that line, Mr. Gowdy.
Mr. Gowdy. All right. Well, I’m not asking you what happened after the initiation. July 2016, when this was launched, when Peter Strzok drafted the initiation documents, did the FBI have evidence at the time that any member of the Trump campaign conspired to access the DNC server?
Mr. Comey. And, again, the challenge with answering that is it’s a slope to answering questions about what we did or didn’t know about Russian activity and the connection of any Americans to it during 2016, and I think that implicates the same problem I just talked about.
Mr. Gowdy. Well, Director, we’re trying to understand what the factual predicate for launching a counterintelligence investigation was.
Mr. Comey. Sure. I understand the gravamen of your question.
Mr. Gowdy. You can’t tell us, or you won’t tell us?
Mr. Comey. Probably a combination of both; that is, as I said in response to your earlier question, I don’t remember seeing the opening memos on counterintelligence cases opened in late July, so I can’t recall exactly what the predication was. But, to the extent I recall facts developed during our investigation of Russian interference and the potential connection of Americans, I think that’s a question that the FBI doesn’t want me answering. So it’s both a can’t and a won’t. Mr. Gowdy. Do you believe your firing is evidence of obstruction of justice?
Mr. Comey. I don’t know that I can answer that question because I’m not — because I’m a witness, in a sense. I don’t know the universe of facts that would reflect on that, so I can’t answer it.
Mr. Gowdy. Have you ever had conversations with Rod Rosenstein where he indicated that he did not believe the contents of the memo he drafted?
Mr. Comey. I’ve never had any conversation with Rod Rosenstein about the memo he drafted, assuming you mean the memo that related to my firing.
Mr. Gowdy. Yes.
Mr. Comey. I’ve never had any conversation with him about that at all.
Mr. Gowdy. Have you read the memo?
Mr. Comey. Yes.
Mr. Gowdy. Do you think it lays out a defensible case for terminating you as the FBI Director?
Ms. Bessee. Mr. Chairman, to the extent that question goes — again, goes to the special counsel’s investigation into obstruction, the witness will not be able to answer.
Mr. Gowdy. I think the whole world has read the memo and — or most of the world. My question is whether or not Director Comey — I think he’s already answered he had no conversations with Rod Rosenstein. My question is, whether or not — and he’s entitled to his opinion — whether or not he believes that that framed a sufficient factual basis for his termination as the FBI Director.
Ms. Bessee. He is entitled to his opinion, but to the extent — because he also stated that he is also a witness in the investigation.
Mr. Gowdy. Which investigation is he a witness in?
Ms. Bessee. To the special counsel. He said he is a potential witness.
Mr. Gowdy. Well, you just said witness. Is there an obstruction of justice investigation?
Ms. Bessee. I believe there is an investigation that the special counsel is looking into.
Mr. Gowdy. Well, we all know that. Is it an obstruction of justice investigation?
Ms. Bessee. Mr. Chairman, can you rephrase the question, please?
Mr. Gowdy. Yes. We all know that. Is it an obstruction of justice investigation?
Ms. Bessee. Can you rephrase the question for the witness?
Mr. Gowdy. Yes. Director Comey, you’re familiar with the memo drafted by Rod Rosenstein. You have not talked to Rod Rosenstein, as I understand your testimony. Do you believe the memo, just on the cold four pages of the memo, four corners of that document, do you believe it provides sufficient basis for your termination? Even if you would have done it differently, is it a basis for your termination?
Mr. Comey. I can’t answer that, Mr. Chairman, because it requires me to get into the mind of the decisionmaker, who is the President, and I’m not in a position to do that.
Mr. Gowdy. Do you have any evidence the memo was subterfuge to fire you, but not for the — but for a different reason?
Mr. Comey. I have no evidence at all about how the memo came to be created. I know that it was part of the documentation that was attached, what was sent to me, delivered to the FBI on the day I was fired. That’s the only thing I have personal knowledge of.