When Fox News anchor Bret Baier pressed former FBI Director James Comey on a number of fronts in a tough interview late last month, I noted a number of strange responses Comey offered to certain questions. For instance, how was it possible that the ex-Bureau boss didn’t specifically know (and claims to still not know) who funded the anti-Trump dossier he used as a key component of the FBI’s Russia investigation? And why is he continuing to promulgate the long-debunked Democratic talking point that Christopher Steele’s work on said dossier was initiated by Republicans? Another point Baier drilled down on was whether Comey had, in fact, testified to lawmakers that FBI agents who’d interrogated then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had reported back that they did not believe he was lying to them. Other news hosts asked similar questions during Comey’s media tour, eliciting similar replies — via Byron York:
During publicity interviews for his book, A Higher Loyalty, Comey has been asked several times whether he told lawmakers that the FBI agents who interviewed Flynn did not believe Flynn had lied. “No,” Comey told Fox News’ Bret Baier. “I don’t know what — maybe someone misunderstood something I said. I didn’t believe that and didn’t say that.” “Not true,” Comey told NBC’s Chuck Todd. “I don’t know where that’s coming from,” Comey told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “That — unless I’m — I said something that people misunderstood, I don’t remember even intending to say that. So, my recollection is I never said that to anybody.”
Here is Comey’s denial on Fox (toggle forward to the 1:45 mark):
As York points out, not only did the House Intelligence Committee released a reportdirectly contradicting Comey on this point in early May, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley has now corroborated the House committee’s findings in a new letter:
In a letter to the Department of Justice and the FBI, committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley wrote, “Director Comey specifically told us during that briefing that the FBI agents who interviewed Lt. General Michael Flynn, ‘saw nothing that led them to believe [he was] lying.’ Our own committee’s staff’s notes indicate that Mr. Comey said the ‘agents saw no change in his demeanor or tone that would say he was being untruthful.'” The Flynn interview took place on January 24, 2017, four days into the Trump administration. Grassley’s letter went farther than the House report to say that Comey “led us to believe…that the Justice Department was unlikely to prosecute [Flynn] for false statements made in that interview.” Comey’s comments left lawmakers surprised when, in late November 2017, after special counsel Robert Mueller had taken over the Russia investigation, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. The House interview was transcribed, and the House committee’s report quoted Comey verbatim. The Senate interview was not transcribed, but Grassley referred to “notes taken by a career, non-partisan law enforcement officer who was present.”
Is this, as John Sexton frames it at HotAir, a “pretty obvious lie“? Or might Comey have misremembered a detail in this complicated and lengthy saga? For the sake of argument, let’s say this is a case of foggy memory. First, would Comey accept that excuse from someone he was interrogating? Second, if he wasn’t absolutely sure on this point, why would he deny that piece of his verbatim testimony — given to two Congressional committees — so emphatically, and more than once, on national television? Why set himself up to be so conclusively disproven by the official record? Alternatively, let’s say he’s proactively lying on this question. If that’s the case, why? It’s very odd, and I’d love to hear Comey answer follow-ups about this. Speaking of oddness, Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel is asking some eyebrow-raising questions about potential methods employed in the Russia probe — as well information being withheld from Congress:
The Department of Justice lost its latest battle with Congress Thursday when it agreed to brief House Intelligence Committee members about a top-secret intelligence source that was part of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign. Even without official confirmation of that source’s name, the news so far holds some stunning implications. Among them is that the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation outright hid critical information from a congressional investigation. In a Thursday press conference, Speaker Paul Ryan bluntly noted that Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’s request for details on this secret source was “wholly appropriate,” “completely within the scope” of the committee’s long-running FBI investigation, and “something that probably should have been answered a while ago.” Translation: The department knew full well it should have turned this material over to congressional investigators last year, but instead deliberately concealed it. House investigators nonetheless sniffed out a name, and Mr. Nunes in recent weeks issued a letter and a subpoena demanding more details.
More from Strassel: “The bureau already has some explaining to do. Thanks to the Washington Post’s unnamed law-enforcement leakers, we know Mr. Nunes’s request deals with a “top secret intelligence source” of the FBI and CIA, who is a U.S. citizen and who was involved in the Russia collusion probe. When government agencies refer to sources, they mean people who appear to be average citizens but use their profession or contacts to spy for the agency. Ergo, we might take this to mean that the FBI secretly had a person on the payroll who used his or her non-FBI credentials to interact in some capacity with the Trump campaign. This would amount to spying, and it is hugely disconcerting. It would also be a major escalation from the electronic surveillance we already knew about, which was bad enough…Which would lead to another big question for the FBI: When? …When precisely was this human source operating? Because if it was prior to that infamous Papadopoulos tip, then the FBI isn’t being straight. It would mean the bureau was spying on the Trump campaign prior to that moment.”
I’ve tried to maintain an open mind about the Russia matter, consistently endorsing Robert Mueller’s integrity and urging that he be permitted to conclude his investigation without interference. I’ve pointed out developments that haven’t particularly helped Trump’s cause, just as I’ve highlighted information that makes the Justice Department’s 2016 actions seem a bit sketchy and suspicious. My sincere hope is that if Mueller unearths any malfeasance within the investigative bureaucracy he once led, he’ll expose it. He’s demonstrated a willingness to dig into Democrats, and to fire members of his team whose biases colored their judgment. It’s essential for the country that his ultimate findings be thorough and unsparing — and not directed exclusively at one president or political party (this bizarre detail continues to bother me, for example). If the potential Trump interview issue is resolved in relatively short order, it would be useful to hear from Mueller sooner rather than later. This dark cloud has been lingering for long enough. If the special counsel needs significantly more time, so be it, but I hope that after a year on the job, he’s close to publishing conclusions (broadsides like this from a federal judge may also spur Mueller to wrap up his business).