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James Comey Testifies He Got Tummy Troubles Over Swaying the 2016 Election

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

FBI Director James Comey on Wednesday defended his decision to announce the reopening of the Hillary Clinton investigation less than two weeks before the U.S. presidential election—though the thought that he might impact the results, he said, made him “mildly nauseous.”

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Comey testified during an annual oversight hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee that he believed concealing the emails found by his agents on the computers of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin, and that of her estranged husband, Anthony Weiner, would have been “disastrous” for him. Concealing any developments in a case he’d previously described as closed, he said, “would have been catastrophic.”

“I sat there that morning and I could not see a door labeled no action here,” Comey told the committee. “I could see two doors and they were both actions—one was labeled speak, the other was labeled conceal.”

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The FBI’s investigation into Clinton was again dropped days before the election.

Often described as the most high-profile FBI director since John Edgar Hoover, Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation is likely to be one of the most defining moments of his career. Since the 1970s, when government surveillance was frequently turned toward political ends, the FBI has striven to define itself as utterly apolitical—not only in the interest of American democracy, but to secure the agency’s own survival as well.

In many ways, Comey’s decision has had the opposite effect, as evidenced by Wednesday’s hearing. Clinton has indicated that she believes Comey’s decision may have changed her odds on November 8th. And many Clinton supporters continue to blame him personally for her loss.

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While Clinton was said to have mishandled classified information, the matter was dropped because it was difficult to prove any wrongdoing was intentional; “That was our burden and we were unable to meet it,’’ Comey said Wednesday.

Comey’s actions are made harder to justify because the FBI was simultaneously investigating several of Donald Trump’s advisors, one of whom the FBI had placed under surveillance after obtaining a secret warrant by demonstrating probable cause that the advisor, Carter Page, was acting as agent of the Russian Federation.

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, chided the director for handling the cases so different (an assertion Comey strongly disagreed with). “We never, ever want anything like this to happen again,” she said.

Asked by Sen. Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, whether or not WikiLeaks, which is believed to have served as an unwitting medium for the Kremlin-backed leaks, qualified as a journalistic organization, Comey said that founder Julian Assange had not acted a journalist, but was instead trafficking in “information porn” with no regard for the “values that normally underlie press reporting.”

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WikiLeaks, he said, was little more than “a conduit for the Russian intelligence services and adversaries to push out information to damage the United States.”

Senior Reporter, Privacy & Security

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DISCUSSION

There is one irrefutable, terrifying fact about the 2016 election that no amount of hand-wringing will change:

Take away every outside influence, and millions upon millions of Americans were still going to vote for Donald Trump.

Even if there were no private email server.

Even if there were no Russian influence.

Even if the FBI had disclosed its investigation into the Trump campaign.

Even after all of the grotesque things Donald Trump did and said.

And people didn’t just vote for him once. They voted for him again, and again, and again, all through the primaries.

The election should have been an absolute landslide for Hillary Clinton. The fact that it was even going to be close, that Donald Trump was going to win even a single state, says quite a lot about who we are as a country. Even had Hillary won, the Trump candidacy did irreparable damage. His ultimate win only increases the severity of the damage, but the damage was done.