Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Live Coverage of FBI Director Comey's Testimony Before Congress. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired July 07, 2016 - 10:30   ET


REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: 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.

[10:30:06] Do you agree or disagree with that?

JAMES COMEY, DIRECTOR, FBI: I say what I said before, again, it's very hard to answer a hypothetical. I will repeat it: It would be a very important consideration in a suitability determination.

CHAFFETZ: Did Hillary Clinton do anything wrong?

COMEY: What do you mean by wrong?

CHAFFETZ: I think it's self-evident.

COMEY: Well, I'm lawyer, I'm an investigator and I'm -- hope, a normal human being.

CHAFFETZ: Do you really believe there should be no consequence for Hillary Clinton and how she dealt with this?

COMEY: Well I didn't say, I hope folks remember what I said on Tuesday. I didn't say there's no consequence for someone who violates the rules regarding the handling of classified information. There are often very severe consequences in the FBI involving their employment, involving their pay, involving their clearances.

That's what I said on Tuesday. I hope folks walk away understanding that just because someone's not prosecuted for mishandling classified information, that doesn't mean, if you work in the FBI, there aren't consequences for it.

CHAFFETZ: So if Hillary Clinton or if anybody had worked at the FBI under this fact pattern, what would you do to that person?

COMEY: There would be a security review and an adjudication of their suitability and a range of discipline could be imposed from termination to reprimand and in between, suspensions, loss of clearance.

So you could be walked out or you could -- depending upon the nature of the facts -- you could be reprimanded. But there is a robust process to handle that.

CHAFFETZ: I've gone past my time. I yield back. I now recognize the ranking member Mr. Cummings.

REP. ELIJAHN CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: Thank you very much. Director Comey, and I want to thank you very much for being here today, especially on such short notice. You and your staff should be commended for the thorough and dedicated review you conducted.

Unfortunately, some of my colleagues are now attacking you personally because your final recommendation conflicted with their preconceived political outcome in this case.

Some have tried to argue that this case is far worse than the case of General David Petraeus, who was convicted in 2015 of knowingly and intentionally compromising highly classified information.

In fact, one very vocal politician we all know said this, and I quote, "If she isn't indicted, the only reason is because the Democrats are protecting her. She is being protected 100 percent, because you look at General Petraeus, you look at all the other people that did a fraction of what she did, but she has much worse judgment than he had and she's getting away with it and it's unfair to him," end of quote.

Director Comey, you were the director of the FBI when General Petraeus pled guilty. Is that right?


CUMMINGS: If I understand that case correctly, General Petraeus kept highly classified information in eight personal notebooks at his private residence. Is that correct?

COMEY: That is correct.

CUMMINGS: According to the filings on that case, his notebook included the identities of covert officers. He also included war strategy, intelligence capabilities, diplomatic discussions, quotes and (inaudible) discussions from high level national security council meetings and discussions with the president.

General Petraeus shared his information with his lover and then biographer. He was caught on audio tape telling her, and I quote, "I mean, they are highly classified, some of them. They don't have it -- it on -- on it, but I mean, there's code word stuff in there," end of quote.

Director Comey, what did General Petraeus mean when he said he intentionally shared, quote, "code word" information with her? What does that mean?

COMEY: The Petraeus case, to my mind, illustrates perfectly the kind of cases the Department of Justice is willing to prosecute. Even there, they prosecuted him for a misdemeanor. In that case, you had vast quantities of highly classified information, including special sensitive compartmented information. That's the reference to code words. Vast quantity of it. Not only shared with someone without authority to have it, but we found it in a search warrant hidden under the insulation in his attic and then he lied to us about it during the investigation.

So you have obstruction of justice, you have intentional misconduct and a vast quantity of information. He admitted he knew that was the wrong thing to do. That is a perfect illustration of the kind of cases that get prosecuted. In my mind, it illustrates importantly the distinction to this case.

CUMMINGS: And General Petraeus did not admit to these facts when the FBI investigators first interviewed him, did he?

COMEY: No, he lied about it.

CUMMINGS: But he did admit to these facts in a plea agreement. Is that correct?


CUMMINGS: Here's what the department filing said about General Petraeus, and I quote. "The acts taken by defendant David Howell Petraeus were in all respects knowing and deliberate and were not committed by mistake, accident or other innocent reason," end of quote.

[10:35:04] Is that an accurate summary, in your view, Director Comey?

COMEY: Yes, it actually leaves out an important part of the case, which is the obstruction of justice.

CUMMINGS: Was he -- was he charged with obstruction of justice?


CUMMINGS: And why not?

COMEY: A decision made by the leadership of the Department of Justice not to insist upon a plea to that felony.

CUMMINGS: So the question is, do you agree with the claim that General Petraeus, and I quote, "got in trouble for far less," end of quote? Do you agree with that statement?

COMEY: No, it's the reverse.

CUMMINGS: And what do you mean by that?

COMEY: His conduct, to me, illustrates the categories of behavior that mark the prosecutions that are actually brought. Clearly intentional conduct, knew what he was doing was a violation of the law, huge amounts of information that even if you couldn't prove he knew it, it raises the inference that he did it, an effort to obstruct justice. That combination of things makes it worthy of a prosecution. A misdemeanor prosecution, but a prosecution nonetheless.

CUMMINGS: Sitting here today, do you stand by the FBI's recommendation to prosecute General Petraeus? COMEY: Oh, yeah.

CUMMINGS: Do you stand by the FBI's recommendation not to prosecute Hillary Clinton?

COMEY: Oh -- yes.

CUMMINGS: Director Comey, how many times have you testified before Congress about the General Petraeus case? Do you know?

COMEY: I don't think I've ever testified -- I don't think I've testified about it at all. I don't think so.

CUMMINGS: With that, I'll yield back.

CHAFFETZ: I have to check the record, but I believe I asked you a question about it at the time. But maybe not.

COMEY: You could have. That's why I was squinching my face. It could have been a Judiciary Committee hearing I was asked about it.

CHAFFETZ: Yeah. We'll now recognize the gentleman from South Carolina, Mr. Gowdy, for five minutes.

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Good morning, Director Comey. Secretary Clinton said she never sent or received any classified information over her private e-mail. Was that true?

COMEY: Our investigation found that there was classified information sent...

GOWDY: So it was not true?

COMEY: That's what I said.

GOWDY: OK. Well, I'm looking for a little shorter answer so you and I are not here quite as long. Secretary Clinton said there was nothing marked classified on her e-mails, either sent or received. Was that true?

COMEY: That's not true. There were a small number of portion markings on, I think, three of the documents.

GOWDY: Secretary Clinton said, I did not e-mail any classified material to anyone on my e-mail, there is no classified material. Was that true?

COMEY: There was classified material e-mailed.

GOWDY: Secretary Clinton said she used just one device. Was that true? COMEY: She used multiple devices during the four years of her term as secretary of state.

GOWDY: Secretary Clinton said all work-related e-mails were returned to the State Department. Was that true?

COMEY: No. We found work-related e-mails, thousands that were not returned.

GOWDY: Secretary Clinton said neither she nor anyone else deleted work related e-mails from her personal account. Was that true?

COMEY: That's a harder one to answer. We found traces of work- related e-mails in -- on devices or in slack space. Whether they were deleted or whether when the server was changed out something happened to them. There's no doubt that the work-related e-mails that were removed electronically from the e-mail system.

GOWDY: Secretary Clinton said her lawyers read every one of the e-mails and were overly inclusive. Did her lawyers read the e-mail content individually?


GOWDY: Well in the interest of time, and because I have a plane to catch tomorrow afternoon, I'm not going to go through anymore of the false statements. But I am going to ask you to put on your old hat. False exculpatory statements, they are used for what?

COMEY: Either for the -- a substantive prosecution or for evidence of intent in a criminal prosecution.

GOWDY: Exactly. Intent and consciousness of guilt, right? Is that right?

COMEY: Right.

GOWDY: Consciousness of guilt and intent. In your old job, you would prove intent, as you just referenced, by showing the jury evidence of a complex scheme that was designed for the very purpose of concealing the public record and you would be arguing in addition to concealment the destruction that you and I just talked about or certainly the failure to preserve.

You would argue all of that under the heading of content (ph) -- intent. You would also be arguing the pervasiveness of the scheme, when it started, when it ended and the number of e-mails, whether they were originally classified or up-classified.

You would argue all of that under the heading of intent. You would also, probably, under common scheme or plan, argue the burn bags of daily calendar entries or the missing daily calendar entries as a common scheme or plan to conceal.

[10:40:01] GOWDY: Two days ago, Director, you said, "A reasonable person in her position should have known a private e-mail was no place to send and receive classified information." You're right. An average person does know not to do that.

This is no average person. This is a former first lady, a former United States senator, and a former secretary of state that the president now contends is the most competent, qualified person to be president since Jefferson. He didn't say that in '08, but he says is now.

She affirmatively rejected efforts to give her a account. She kept these private e-mails for almost two years, and only turned them over to Congress because we found out she had a private e-mail account.

So you have a rogue e-mail system set up before she took the oath of office, thousands of what we now know to be classified e-mails, some of which were classified at the time. One of her more frequent e-mail comrades was in fact hacked, and you don't know whether or not she was. And this scheme took place over a long period of time and it resulted in the destruction of public records.

And yet you say there is insufficient evidence of intent. You say she was extremely careless, but not intentionally so. You and I both know intent is really difficult to prove. Very rarely do defendants announced "on this date, I intend to break this criminal code section; just to put everyone on notice, I am going to break the law on this date." It never happens that way.

You have to do it with circumstantial evidence. Or if you're Congress and you realize how difficult it is to prove specific intent, you will formulate a statute that allows for gross negligence.

My time is out, but this is really important. You mentioned there's no precedent for criminal prosecution. My fear is there still isn't. There's nothing to keep a future secretary of state or president from this exact same e-mail scheme, or their staff.

And my real fear is this -- it's what the chairman touched upon, this double-track justice system that is rightly or wrongly perceived in this country, that if you are a private in the Army and you e-mail yourself classified information, you will be kicked out. But if you are Hillary Clinton and you seek a promotion to commander in chief, you will not be. So what I hope you can do today is help the average -- the reasonable person you made reference to, the reasonable person understand why she appears to be treated differently than the rest of us would be.

With that, I would yield back.

CHAFFETZ: I will now recognize the gentlewoman from New York, Ms. Maloney.

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D), NEW YORK: Director, thank you for your years of public service. You have distinguished yourself as the assistant U.S. attorney for both the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of Virginia. That's why you were appointed by President Bush to be the deputy attorney general at the Department of Justice, and why President Obama appointed you as the director of the FBI in 2013.

Despite your impeccable reputation for independence and integrity, Republicans have turned on you with a vengeance immediately after you announced your recommendation not to pursue criminal charges against Secretary Clinton.

Let me give you some examples. Representative Turner said, and I quote, "The investigation by the FBI is steeped in political bias," end quote. Was your investigation steeped in political bias? Yes or no?

COMEY: No. It was steeped in no kind of bias.

MALONEY: Thank you.

The speaker of the House Paul Ryan was even more critical. He accused you of not applying the law equally. He said your recommendation shows, and I quote, "the Clintons are living above the law; they've being held to a different set of standards; that is clearly what this looks like," end quote.

How do you respond to his accusations that you held the Clintons to a different set of standards than anyone else? Did you hold them to a different standard or the same standard?

COMEY: It's just not -- it's just not accurate. We try very hard to apply the same standard whether you're rich or poor, white or black, old or young, famous or not known at all. I just hope folks will take the time to understand the other cases, because there's a lot of confusion out there about what the facts were of the other cases that I understand good people, reasonable people to have questions.

MALONEY: Senator Cruz also criticized you. He said that there are, and I quote, "serious concerns about the integrity of Director Comey's decision." He stated that you, quote, "you had rewritten a clearly worded federal criminal statute." Did you rewrite the law in any way or rewrite any statute?

[]10:45:15] COMEY: No.

MALONEY: Now, I hesitate -- I truly hesitate to mention the next one. But Donald Trump took these conspiracy theories to a totally new level. He said, and I quote, "It was no accident that charges (inaudible) recommended against Hillary the exact same day as President Obama campaigned with her for the first time." So did you plan the timing of your announcement to help Secretary Clinton's campaign event on Tuesday?

COMEY: No. The timing was entirely my own. Nobody knew I was going to do it, including the press. I'm very proud of the way the FBI, nobody leaked that. We didn't coordinate it. Didn't tell. Just not a consideration.

MALONEY: Mr. Trump also claimed that Secretary Clinton bribed the attorney general with an extension of her job. And I guess this somehow affected your decision. I know it's a ridiculous question, but I have to ask it. Did you make your decision because of some kind of bribe to the attorney general?


MALONEY: I -- I tell you, are you surprised as I am by the intensity of the attacks from the GOP on you, after having made a decision, a thoughtful decision, an independent decision with the professional staff of the FBI?

COMEY: I'm not surprised by the intense interest and debate. I predicted it. I think it's important that we talk about these things. They inevitably become focused on individual people. That's OK. We'll just continue to have the conversation.

MALONEY: I believe that what we're seeing today is that if the GOP does not like the results of an investigation or how it turns out, and we saw they originally were lauding you. The minute you made your announcement, they're now attacking you -- the same people.

And now, I predict they'll be calling for more hearings, more investigations, all at the expense of the taxpayer. And they do this instead of working on what the American people really care about. They want Congress to focus on jobs, the environment, homeland security, the security of our nation, affordable childcare, affordable college educations, and an economy that works and helps all people.

I thank you for performing your job with distinction and the long history of your whole profession of integrity and independence. And thank you very much. My time is expired.

CHAFFETZ: I thank the gentlewoman.

We'll now recognize the gentleman from Ohio, Mr. Jordan, for five minutes.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Director, thank you for being with us.

On Tuesday, you said, "any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton's position should have known that an unclassified system was no place for these conversations." You said on Tuesday, "some of her e-mails bore classified markings." And you also said on Tuesday there were potential violations of the appropriate statutes.

Now, I know a bunch of prosecutors back home would look at that fact pattern and look at that evidence -- you even referenced it in your opening statement, some of your prosecutor -- friends in the prosecution business have been on TV saying they would have looked at that same evidence and they would have taken it to a grand jury.

But on Tuesday, you said, and today in your opening statement, you said, "no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case."

And then in your statement Tuesday, you cite factors that helped you make that decision and make that statement. And one of the factors you said was "consider the context of a person's actions." Typically, when I hear "context" in the course of a criminal investigation, it's -- it's from the defense side, not the prosecution side. It's at the end of the case after there's been a trial and a guilty verdict, and it's during the sentencing phase -- mitigating circumstances. That's the context we typically think about.

But you said it on the front end. You said "consider the context of the person's actions." And so I'm curious. What does "consider the context" mean? Because a lot of Americans are thinking just what the chairman talked about in his opening statement, that there are two standards: one for we the people, and one for the politically connected.

A lot of folks I get the privilege of representing back in Ohio think that when you said "consider the context," they think that's what Mr. Gowdy just talked about -- the fact that she is former first lady, former secretary of state, former senator, major party's nominee for the highest office in the land. And, oh by the way, her husband just met with the individual you work with at an airport in Arizona five days ago.

[10:50:03] So, you said none of that influenced your decision. But tell us what "consider the context" means.

COMEY: Thank you, Mr. Jordan.

What I was trying to capture is the fact that the exercise for prosecutorial discretion is always a judgment case. It is in every single case. Among the things you consider are, what was this person's background? What was the circumstances of the offense? Were they drunk? Were they inflamed by passion? Was it somebody who had a sufficient level of education, and training, and experience that we can infer certain things from that to consider the entire circumstances of the conduct and background? I did not mean to consider political context.

JORDAN: The entire circumstances, and Mr. Gowdy just talked about this scheme -- remember what she did, right? She sets up this unique server arrange. She alone controlled it.

On the server, on that system are her personal e-mails, her work related e-mails, Clinton Foundation information, and now we know, classified information. This gets discovered. We find out this arrangement exists. Then what happens? Her lawyers, her legal team decides which ones we get and which ones they get to keep.

They made the sort on the front end. And then we find out the ones that they kept and didn't give to us, didn't give to the American people, didn't give to Congress, the ones they kept, they destroyed them. And you don't have to take my word. I'll take what you said on Tuesday, "they deleted all e-mails they did not return to the State Department, and the lawyers cleaned their devices in such a way as to preclude complete forensic recovery." Now, that sounds like a fancy way of saying they hid the evidence, right? And you just told Mr. Gowdy thousands of e-mails fell into those categories.

Now, that seems to me to provide some context to what took place here. Did Secretary Clinton's legal team -- excuse me, let me ask it this way. Did Secretary Clinton know her legal team deleted those e- mails that they kept from us?

COMEY: I don't believe so.

JORDAN: Did Secretary Clinton approve those e-mails being deleted?

COMEY: I don't think there was any specific instruction or conversation between the Secretary and her lawyers about that.

JORDAN: Did you ask that question?


JORDAN: Did Secretary Clinton know that her lawyers cleaned devices in such a way to preclude forensic recovery?

COMEY: I don't believe she did.

JORDAN: Did you ask that question?


JORDAN: Do you see how someone could view the context of what she did, set up a private system, she alone controlled it, she kept everything on it? We now know from Ms. Abedin's deposition they did it for that reason, so no one could see what was there based on the depositions Ms. Abedin gave. And then when they got caught, they deleted what they had and they scrubbed their devices. Is that part of the context in evaluating this decision?

COMEY: Sure, sure. And I understand what inferences can be drawn from that set of facts, of course.

JORDAN: Mr. Chairman, I yield back.

CHAFFETZ: I thank the gentleman. We will now recognize the gentle woman from the District of Columbia, Mrs. Norton for five minutes.

DEL. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), D.C.: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Director Comey, I appreciate your conduct of this investigation in a nonpartisan way in keeping with the sterling reputation, which has led presidents of both parties to appoint you to highly placed law enforcement positions in our federal government.

I want to say for the record that this hearing where you call the prosecutor, Mr. Comey, stands in the place of the prosecutor, because the Attorney General has accepted entirely the FBI's recommendations. When you call the prosecutor to give account for the decision to prosecute or not a particular individual raises serious questions of separation of powers, and particularly when you're questioning the prosecutor's decision with respect to the decision, to prosecute or not a particular individual, it raises serious bill of attainder Constitutional questions.

These hearings are so often accusatory that they yield no guidance as to how to conduct business in the future. And that's the way it looks -- it looks as though that is how this hearing is going. Of course, now, everyone understands in the abstract, why it is important for security reasons to use official government mail or e- mail rather than private e-mail if security matters are involved. It's a very broad, wide proposition.

[10:55:27] Now, there are no rules so far as I know, requiring members of Congress to use their -- as to how they use their official e-mail accounts, whether involving security or not. The Chairman of this Committee lists his personal account, for example, on his business card. No one says that's wrong. I don't know if it's wrong or right, because there's no guidance.

Federal agency employees, members of Congress, often have secure information or at least sensitive information that shouldn't be made public. Some of our members on the Intelligence Committee, or the Defense Committee or even this committee, and they have such matters -- some of these matters may concern national security issues. And I don't know if something is sensitive, as the itinerary -- if you're going to a hotel as to the route you're taking, and where you will be, all that could be on people's personal e-mails.

Of course, there's a legislative branch, and I spoke of separation of powers. I'm not indicating that there should be a government-wide sense that it is ordained from or hide (ph) -- but there ought to be rules that everybody understands about especially after the Clinton episode, about the use of personal e-mail. So I would like your insight for guidance as far as other federal employees are concerned or other members of Congress and their staff because I think we could learn from this episode.

So strictly from a security standpoint, do you believe that federal employees, staff, even members of Congress, should attempt guidance on the issue of the use of personal e-mails versus some official form of communication? What should we learn from the process the Secretary has gone through? I'm sure there will be questions about how there was even confusion, for example, in the State Department. But what should we learn when it comes to our own -- our own use of e-mail and the use of federal employees on this question?

COMEY: May I answer, Mr. Chairman?

The most important thing to learn is an unclassified e-mail system is no case for an e-mail conversation about classified matters. By that, I mean either sending a document as an attachment over unclassified e-mail that is classified, or having a conversation about something that is a classified subject on an unclassified e-mail system. That's the focus of the concern.

That's the focus of this investigation, that it was also a personal e-mail adds to the concern about the case because of the security vulnerabilities associated with a personal system. But the brute of the problem is people using unclassified systems to conduct business that is classified. So all of us should have access to, when we have access to classified information, classified communication systems.

The FBI has three levels an unclassified system, a secret system, and a top secret system. You can e-mail on all three, but you need to make sure you don't e-mail on the unclassified system, even if that's a government classified system about matters that are classified. That's the important lesson learned.

Everybody ought to be aware of it. Everybody ought to be trained on it. We spend a lot of time training on it in the fib to make sure folks are sensitive to the need of moving a classified discussion, even if it doesn't involve sending a document to the appropriate forum.

NORTON: Members of Congress included?

COMEY: Of course.

NORTON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

CHAFFETZ: We'll now recognize the gentleman from Florida, Mr. DeSantis for five minutes.