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FBI Director James Comey To Testify Before House Committee on Clinton E-Mail Probe. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 7, 2016 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The president has been commenting on this investigation for months inappropriately.

[10:00:06] And of course the Republicans on the Hill have -- you know, they're not blameless either because they kind of set the table in some of the political overtones of this entire investigation.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Evan, stand by.

David Chalian, this comes within the context not only of a presidential election here in the United States but also on a day when Donald Trump happens to be on a -- a few blocks away, up on Capitol himself, meeting with members of the House of Representatives, Republicans, meeting with members of the Senate, Democrats (sic). Not all, some are -- have decided they didn't want to go to those meetings.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I'm sure Donald Trump is not going to make his way into this hearing room and sit in the audience there to observe. But he looms over it, there's no doubt it. Mostly because it is the thing that he can use more than anything else to unify the Republican Party. Nothing brings Republicans together like taking on Hillary Clinton, and this is a perfect avenue for Donald Trump to do that. So the fact he's up there on the day, as you said, meeting with the House Republican Conference, meeting with the Republican senators, on this day, that's pretty good timing for Donald Trump to be able to help unify the party.

BLITZER: And we see the members. The chairman, Jason Chaffetz, he's getting ready to bring this session to gavel. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat, he's already there. Waiting for James Comey, I can't see if he's already in the seat. It doesn't look like he is. Not yet, but he'll be walking in momentarily.

And it will be interesting, I think, John King, to see if -- will he be sworn in? Will he have to take that oath before he testifies?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's a great question, because, Wolf, you and I lived this. And David Gergen I think is with us. We lived this 20 years ago in the Bill Clinton presidency where Bill Clinton did a number of things. He was impeached for them. And then Republicans went too far in how they pursued the investigation and the public turned on the Republicans as much as they turned on Bill Clinton. And Bill Clinton came out of it. He was not removed from the presidency. He left the presidency with a high approval rating, and the Republicans had a political problem for a long time.

So there are some veteran Republicans who are urging their members be careful, focus on the facts, don't attack Jim Comey. Ask him to explain what Hillary Clinton did. Ask him to explain how they recklessly and carelessly handled classified information. Not once, not twice, but dozens of times -- not over weeks and months but over four years.

That's what the strategists are telling them. But, as you see in these hearings sometimes, emotions kick in. Hillary Clinton testified in the Benghazi experience for example. Republicans thought they had a good case against her and the public saw somebody who handled the questions pretty well. So how do the Republicans calibrate this is a part of this.

And to your point about Donald Trump, this is a golden issue for Donald Trump. He wants to change Washington. No politics as usual. No special treatment for the elites, if you will. And there's a lot of frustration in the Republican Party that he gets diverted into other things sometimes and that, you know, he's not the perfect candidate to prosecute this case, if you will. So it's a big day and a big moment that all of this playing out in Washington.

BLITZER: We see Trey Gowdy sitting there right in the middle of the screen, Trey Gowdy the Republican Congressman from South Carolina who led that Benghazi Special Committee as well.

David Grergen, as we await the arrival of the FBI director James Comey, give us some historic perspective. We've been pointing out that it's not the first time a sensitive hearing like this takes place up on Capitol Hill over these many, many years.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely not, Wolf. This is one of those moments that lives on in history --

BLITZER: And here comes Mr. Comey. Here comes the director, David. David, here's James Comey walking in right now. He'll be walking over to the table. But go ahead.

GERGEN: Yes, sure. And one of those moments came back in 2007 when James Comey himself came up to testify and he gave riveting testimony about his time as deputy attorney general of the Bush administration and standing up to the president, standing up to the rest of the Justice Department. And this man walked away with his integrity intact. And what you're going to see is a man today who is very determined to protect the integrity of the investigation, the integrity of his institution, the FBI, and himself. He has a -- he has a moral compass, Wolf, very different from a lot of people in Washington these days.

BLITZER: And you saw Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat, Jason Chaffetz, the chairman, walk over and welcome James Comey to this hearing. They're about to begin.

This is a moment that a lot of people will be watching for because the ramifications, David Gergen and everyone else, could clearly be significant. There's Jason Chaffetz heading to his seat right now. David Chalian, the political world will be watching. The legal world will be watching. The congressional world will be watching. This is a very important moment.

Let's listen in to Jason Chaffetz.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will come to order.

Without objection, the chair is authorized to declare a recess at any time.

I want to thank Director Comey for being here, and doing so on short notice.

[10:05:05] My -- I have the greatest admiration for the FBI. My grandfather was a career FBI agent.

I'd say I'm here because we're mystified and confused by the fact pattern that you laid out and the conclusions that you reached.

It seems that there are two standards. And there's no consequence for these types of activities and dealing in a careless way with classified information. It seems to a lot of us that the average Joe, the average American, that if they had done what you laid out in your statement, that they'd be in handcuffs and they might be on their way to jail and they probably should.

And I think there is a legitimate concern that there is a double standard. If your name isn't Clinton or you're not part of the powerful elite, that Lady Justice will act differently. It's a concern that Lady Justice will take off that blindfold and come to a different conclusion.

Hillary Clinton created this mess. Wasn't Republicans. It wasn't anybody else. She made a very conscious decision. On the very day that she started her Senate confirmation, she set up and got a domain name. And set up a system to avoid and bypass the safety, security, and the protocol of the State Department.

Classified information is classified for a reason. It's classified because if it were to get out into the public, there are nefarious actors, nation states, others that want to do harm to this country. And there are people who put their lives on the line protecting and serving our country. When those communications are not secure, it puts their lives in jeopardy.

This classified information is entrusted to very few, but there is such a duty and an obligation to protect that, to fall on your sword to protect that. And yet, there's -- there doesn't seem to be any consequence.

I was talking to Trey Gowdy and he made a really good point with us yesterday. Mr. Gowdy said, you know, in your statement, Mr. Director, you mentioned that there was no precedent for this. But we believe that you have set a precedent and it's a dangerous one.

The precedent is if you sloppily deal with classified information, if you're cavalier about it -- and it wasn't just a innocent mistake, this went on for years -- that there's going to be no consequence. We -- we're a different nation in the United States of America. We are self-critical. Most nations would never do this. But we do it in the spirit of making ourselves better. There will be all kinds of accusations about political this and political that.

I -- I have defended your integrity, every step of the way. You are the definitive voice. I stand by that. But I am mystified and I am confused because you listen to your fact pattern and come to the conclusion that there is no consequence, I don't know how to explain that.

We'll have constituents ask us, they'll get mad, they're -- you know, they're frustrated. They've seen this happen time and time again. I don't know how to explain it. And I hope that it -- through this hearing, we can stick to the facts and understand this because there does seem to be two standards, there does seem to be no consequence, and I want to understand that. And I want to be able to explain it to the person that's sitting at home. And that's where we're here.

And so I yield back. I now recognize the ranking member, Mr. Cummings.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: Director Comey, thank you for being here today.

I want to begin by commending you and the public servants at the FBI for the independent investigation you conducted. You had a thankless task. No matter what recommendation you made, you were sure to be criticized.

[10:10:00] There's no question that you were extremely thorough. In fact, some may even say you went too far in your investigation. But of course, that was your job. That is your job.

Secretary Clinton has acknowledged that she made a mistake in using a personal e-mail account. You explained on Tuesday that she and her colleagues at the State Department were extremely careless with their e-mails. But after conducting this exhaustive review, you determined that no reasonable prosecutor would bring a case based on this evidence. And you and the career staff recommended against prosecution.

Based on the previous cases you examined, if prosecutors had gone forward, they would have been holding the secretary to a different standard from everyone else. Amazingly, amazingly, some Republicans who were praising you just days ago for your independence, for your integrity, and your honesty, instantly turned against you because your recommendation conflicted with the predetermined outcome they wanted.

In their eyes, you had one job, and one job only: to prosecute Hillary Clinton. But you refused to do so. So now you are being summoned here to answer for your alleged transgressions. And in a sense, Mr. Director, you're on trial. Contrary to the claims of your critics, there is absolutely no evidence that you made your recommendation for political reasons; no evidence that you were bribed or coerced or influenced; no evidence that you came to your conclusion based upon anything but the facts and the law.

I firmly believe that your decision was not based on convenience, but on conviction. Today, House Republicans are doing what they always do, using taxpayers' money to continue investigating claims that have already been debunked just to keep them in the headlines one more day. When they hear a political siren, they rush towards it over and over again, even if the evidence is not there.

Exhibit A. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who admitted on national television that Republicans established the Benghazi Select Committee to bring down Secretary Clinton's poll numbers. I didn't say that. McCarthy said it. The fact was confirmed by a Republican staffer on that committee who reported that he was fired in part for not going along with the hyper-focus on Secretary Clinton.

I give House Republicans credit. They certainly are not shy about what they are doing. They've turned political investigations into an art form. If our concerns here today are with the proper treatment of classified information, then we should start with a review of our previous hearing on General David Petraeus, who pled guilty last year to intentionally and knowingly compromising highly classified information.

The problem is, Mr. Director, we never had that hearing. This committee ignored that breach of national security because it did not match the political goals of House Republicans. If our concerns today were with finally addressing a broken classification system in which security levels are arbitrarily changed up and down, that would have been a legitimate goal. That would have been a valuable addition to reforming and improving our government. After all, we are the Government Reform Committee.

We could have held hearings here on Zika -- the Zika virus, preventing gun massacres like the one in Orlando, or a host of other topics that could actually save people's lives. But that's not why we're here. That is not why our chairman called this emergency hearing 48 hours after you made your recommendation.

[10:15:05] Everyone knows what this committee is doing. Honestly, I would not be surprised and I say this with all seriousness, I would not be surprised if tomorrow Republicans set up a new committee to spend $7 million-plus on why the FBI failed to prosecute Hillary Clinton.

Director Comey, let me conclude with this request. Even with all that I have said, I believe that there is a critical role for you today. I've listened carefully to the coverage on this issue. And I've heard people say as recently as this morning, three hours ago, that they were mystified by your decision. As a matter of fact, the chairman repeated it a minute ago.

So there is a perceived gap between the things you said on Tuesday and your recommendation. There's a gap, Mr. Director. So in this moment, and this is a critical moment, I beg you to fill the gap. Because when the gap is not filled by you, it will be filled by others. Share with us, the American people, your process and your thinking. Explain how you examine the evidence, the law, and the precedent. Describe in clear terms how you and your team career professionals arrived at this decision.

If you can do that today, if you can do that, that could go a long way towards people understanding your decision.

Finally, I want to make it clear that I condemn these completely unwarranted political attacks against you. They have attacked you personally. They have attacked your integrity. They have impugned your professionalism. And they have even suggested that you were somehow bought and paid for because you made your recommendation based upon the law and the facts.

I know you're used to working in a world of politics, but these attacks have been beyond the pale.

So, you do not deserve this. Your family does not deserve it. And the highly skilled and dedicated agents of the FBI do not deserve it. I honor your professionalism and your service to our country. And again, even if it takes until hell freezes over, I beg you to close the gap. Tell us what happened between what you found and your decision so that not only the members of this panel and this Congress will understand, but so that Americans will understand.

And if you do that, if you do that, then it will be all worth it today.

With that, I yield back.

CHAFFETZ: I think -- hold on one second. With -- with your indulgence, to the ranking member, for which I have the greatest respect, you asked for a hearing on General Petraeus and how that was dealt with. You got it. We will have one in this oversight committee and the record will reflect that in the Judiciary Committee, I repeatedly questioned Attorney General Holder. I repeatedly questioned the FBI director about the disposition of that case, probably more than any member in the House or Senate. And if you want a hearing, we'll do that.

CUMMINGS: Does the gentleman yield?

CHAFFETZ: Yes.

CUMMINGS: Thank you.

CHAFFETZ: Number two, you complained that we haven't done a hearing on Zika. The Oversight and Government Reform Committee I believe was the very first committee to actually do a hearing on Zika that was chaired by Mr. Mica. And I'm proud of the fact that we did a Zika hearing and we did it first.

CUMMINGS: Does the gentleman yield?

CHAFFETZ: Sure.

CUMMINGS: Can we have another one? Because the problem is still there.

CHAFFETZ: Absolutely.

CUMMINGS: Big time. Thank you.

CHAFFETZ: Absolutely, absolutely.

REP. MICA (R), FLORIDA: Mr. Chairman, I just -- a unanimous consent request that we put the date of the hearing in the record at this time that I chaired, thank you, on Zika.

CHAFFETZ: Absolutely. And the ranking member knows that we have held multiple hearings on the criminal justice -- on criminal justice reform. You asked for it. You're passionate about it. And we did do that as well. So to suggest we haven't addressed some of those issues I think is inaccurate.

CUMMINGS: I don't think I did that, Mr. Chairman. But again, as late as yesterday with the problem in Minnesota, with an African American man being killed, I'd like to have some hearings still on the criminal justice system. Thank you.

CHAFFETZ: I thank the gentleman, without objection.

I'm going to work with you on that, as I have every step of the way.

CUMMINGS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

CHAFFETZ: Without objection, the chair is authorized to declare a recess at any time.

[10:20: 02] We'll hold the record open for five legislative days for any members who would like to submit a written statement.

We'll now recognize our distinguished witness for our first panel.

I am pleased to welcome the Honorable James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations. We welcome Director Comey, and thank him for being here.

Pursuant to committee rules, all witnesses are to be sworn before they testify. If you'll please rise and raise your right hand. Do you solemnly swear or affirm that the testimony you're about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

Thank you.

Let the record reflect that the witness answered in the affirmative.

Mr. Comey, the floor is yours. You can take as long or as short as you'd like. If you have a written statement that you would like to submit afterwards, we're happy to do that as well. It will be made part of the record. The time is now yours. Director Comey, you're recognized.

JAMES COMEY, DIRECTOR, FBI: Thank you Mr. Chairman, Mr. Cummings, members of the Committee.

I am proud to be here today representing the people of the FBI who did this investigation as they do all their work in a competent, honest, and independent way. I believe this investigation was conducted consistent with the highest traditions of the FBI. Our folks did it in an apolitical and professional way, including our recommendation as to the appropriate resolution of this case.

As I said in my statement on Tuesday, I expected there would be significant public debate about this recommendation. And I'm a big fan of transparency, so I welcome the conversation we're going to have here today. And I do think a whole lot of folks have questions about, "so why did we reach the conclusion we did and what was our thinking?" I hope to get an opportunity to address that and explain it. People can disagree, can agree, but they will at least understand that the decision was made and the recommendation was made the way you would want it to be, by people who didn't give a hoot about politics, who cared about what are the facts, what is the law, and how similar people, all people have been treated in the past.

Maybe I can say a few words at the beginning that would help frame how we think about this. There are two things that matter in a criminal investigation of a subject. What did the person do, and when they did that thing, what were they thinking? When you look at the hundred years plus of the Justice Department's investigation and prosecution of the mishandling of classified information, those two questions are present. What did the person do? Did they mishandle classified information? And when they did it, did they know they were doing something that was unlawful.? That has been the characteristic of every charged criminal case involving the mishandling of classified information.

I'm happy to go through the classifications in particular. In our system of law, there's a thing called mens rea. It's important to know what you did and when you did it. This Latin phrase "mens rea" means, "What were you thinking?"

We don't want to put people in jail unless we prove that they knew they were doing something they shouldn't do. That is the characteristic of all the prosecutions involving mishandling of classified information. There was a statute passed in 1917 that on its face makes it a crime, a felony for someone to engage in gross negligence. So that would appear to say, well, maybe in that circumstance you don't need to prove they were doing something unlawful, maybe it's enough to prove they were really, really careless beyond a reasonable doubt. At the time Congress passed that statute in 1917, there was a lot of concern in the House and Senate about whether that was going to violate the American tradition of requiring that before you go and lock somebody up, you proved they knew they were doing something wrong. So there was a lot of concern about it.

The statute was passed. As best I can tell, the Department of Justice has used it once in the 99 years since reflecting that same concern. I know from 30 years with the Department of Justice, they have grave concerns about whether it's appropriate to prosecute somebody for gross negligence, which is why they've done it once that I know of in a case involving espionage.

When I look at the facts we gather here, as I said, I see evidence of great carelessness, but I do not see evidence that is sufficient to establish that Secretary Clinton or those with whom she was corresponding, both talked about classified information on e-mail and knew when they did it, they were doing something that was against the law. So given that assessment of the facts, my understanding of the law, my conclusion was and remains, no reasonable prosecutor would bring this case. No reasonable prosecutor would bring the second case in 100 years focused on gross negligence. I know that's been a source of some confusion for folks, that's just the way it is. I know the Department of Justice, I know no reasonable prosecutor would bring in the case. I know a lot of my former friends are out there saying, they would. I wonder where they were in the last 40 years because I'd like to see the cases they brought on gross negligence. Nobody would. Nobody did.

So judgment was, the appropriate resolution of this case was, not with a criminal prosecution.

[10:25:04] As I said, folks can disagree with that. I hope that they know that, that view, not just my view but of my team, was honestly held, fairly investigated, and communicated with unusual transparency because we know folks care about it.

So I look forward to this conversation. I look forward to answering as many questions as I possibly can. I'll stay as long as you need me to stay because I believe transparency matters tremendously. I thank you for the opportunity.

CHAFFETZ: Thank you, director. I'm going to recognize myself here.

Physically where were Hillary Clinton's servers?

COMEY: The operational server was in the basement of her home in New York. The reason I'm answering it that way, is that sometimes after they were decommissioned they were moved to other facilitates -- storage facilities, but the live device was always in the basement. CHAFFETZ: Was that an authorized or unauthorized location?

COMEY: It was an unauthorized location for the transmitting of classified information.

CHAFFETZ: Is it reasonable or unreasonable to expect Hillary Clinton would receive and send classified information?

COMEY: As Secretary of State, reasonable that the Secretary of State would encounter classified information in the course of the Secretary's work.

CHAFFETZ: Via e-mail?

COMEY: Sure, depending upon the nature of the system. To communicate classified information, it would have to be a classified rated e-mail system.

CHAFFETZ: But you did find more than 100 e-mails that were classified that had gone through that server correct?

COMEY: Through an unclassified server correct.

CHAFFETZ: Yes. So Hillary Clinton did come to possess documents and materials that contained classified information via e-mail on these unsecured servers is that correct?

COMEY: That is correct. CHAFFETZ: Did Hillary Clinton lie?

COMEY: To the FBI? We have no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI.

CHAFFETZ: Did she lie to the public?

COMEY: That's a question I'm not qualified to answer. I can speak about what she said to the FBI.

CHAFFETZ: Did she -- did Hillary Clinton lie under oath?

COMEY: To the -- not to the FBI. Not in a case we're working.

CHAFFETZ: Did you review the documents where Congressman Jim Jordan asked her specifically and she said, quote, "there was nothing marked classified on my e-mails either sent or received," end quote?

COMEY: I don't remember reviewing that particular testimony, I'm aware of that being said, though.

CHAFFETZ: Did the FBI investigate her statements under oath on this topic?

COMEY: Not to my knowledge. I don't think there's been a referral from Congress.

CHAFFETZ: Do you need a referral from Congress to investigate her -- her statements under oath?

COMEY: Sure do.

CHAFFETZ: You'll have one. You'll have one in the next few hours. Did

Hillary Clinton break the law?

COMEY: In connection with her use of the e-mail server, my judgment is that she did not.

CHAFFETZ: Are you just not able to prosecute it or did Hillary Clinton break the law?

COMEY: Both. I don't want to give an overly lawyerly answer. The question I always look at is, is there evidence that would establish beyond a reasonable doubt that somebody engaged in conduct that violated a criminal statute. And my judgment here there is not.

CHAFFETZ: The FBI does background checks. If Hillary Clinton applied for the job at the FBI, would the FBI give Hillary Clinton a security clearance?

COMEY: I don't want to answer a hypothetical.

The FBI has a robust process in which we adjudicate the suitability of people for employment in the bureau. CHAFFETZ: Given the fact pattern you laid out less than 40 hours ago, would that person who had dealt with classified information like that, would that person be granted a security clearance at the FBI?

COMEY: It would be a very important consideration and a suitability determination.

CHAFFETZ: You're kind of making my point, Director. The point being because I injected the word "Hillary Clinton," you gave me a different answer.

If I came up to you and said that this person was extremely careless with classified with classified information, the exposure to hostile actors, had used despite a warning -- created unnecessary burdens and exposure, if they said they had one device and you found out they had multiple devices, if there had been e-mail chains with somebody like Jake Sullivan asking for classification changes; you're telling me that the FBI would grant a security clearance to that person?

COMEY: I hope I'm giving a consistent -- I'm not saying what the answer would be.

I'm saying that would be an important consideration in a suitability determination for anybody.

CHAFFETZ: It's -- personally, I think that sounds like a bit of a political answer, because I can't imagine that the FBI would grant a security clearance to somebody with that pattern.