WASHINGTON (CN) – Under intense scrutiny from Democrats, FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that it makes him feel “mildly nauseous” to think his eleventh-hour disclosure of an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails before Election Day influenced the outcome of the race.
But all the same, he said, he’d do it again, as the FBI cannot take into account how its actions might benefit or harm politicians.
“I can’t consider for a second whose political futures will be affected and in what way,” Comey said. “We have to ask ourselves what is the right thing to do and then do it.”
Comey told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that in late October 2016, he met with an FBI investigative team that was then reviewing material on disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s laptop.
Weiner, was married to top Clinton aide Huma Abedin at the time, and investigators were looking into his sexting activity with several young women. The investigators told Comey that while looking at Weiner’s files, they’d turned up thousands of the former secretary of state’s emails – some of them potentially classified — on his laptop.
Comey said he was then forced to make a decision on how to proceed which would call into question the traditions he upheld throughout the entirety of his career.
“If you can avoid it, you avoid any action in a run-up to the election and I could not see a door labeled “no action,” he said. “Both were labeled ‘action.’ One was labeled ‘speak,’ the other ‘conceal.'”
Comey said the decision was particularly wrenching because he had assured Congress, in July, 2016, that the FBI investigation of Clinton’s emails was over.
“There’s nothing there, no case there. To restart it in a hugely significant way, potentially finding emails which would reflect on her from the beginning would require an act of concealment. To speak would be really bad or catastrophic,” Comey said.
He told the judiciary committee that he informed his staff that they would have to “walk into a world of really bad” because the investigation simply could not be finished before the election.
The announcement, which came to be known as the October Surprise, revealed no new findings. Comey insisted on Wednesday that it was his responsibility to inform Congress that nothing improper was found. He went on to say that if confronted with the same set of facts today, he would make the same decision he did in October, and would not change a thing.
But that didn’t satisfy Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and other committee Democrats, who grilled Comey at length and openly questioned his judgment.
“The actions by the FBI did in fact have an impact on the election. What’s worse, while all of this was going on in public spotlight, while the FBI was discussing the investigation of Ciinton’s email server in detail, I cannot help but note that it was noticeably silent about the investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian interference into the election,” Feinstein said.
As far back as June last year, the senator said, the FBI was aware that then candidate Donald Trump was “goading the Russian government” into hacking Clinton.
“Through the fall election, the FBI was actively investigating Russian efforts to interfere and possible involvement of Trump campaign officials in those efforts. Yet the FBI remained silent. In fact, the FBI refused to acknowledge existence of any investigation,” Feinstein said. “It’s still very unclear, why the FBI’s treatment of these two investigations were so dramatically different?”
With the Clinton investigation, the circumstances were “exceptional,” Feinstein added.
“It was a high interest matter [as was] the need to reassure the public … I can’t imagine how an unprecedented, big and bold hacking interference in the election did not also present exceptional circumstances,” she said.
By that point, the FBI had already concluded that Russian intelligence saboteurs hacked into DNC’s computer systems and emails, stealing much of the information that would later be published by WikiLeaks during the contentious campaign.
Comey didn’t directly answer the question of why he disclosed one investigation, the one into Clinton’s emails, and not the other, the inquiry into Trump campaign involvement with Russian hackers, but in the past he has said the Clinton matter was already public, the Trump investigation was not.
As a rule, he’s said, the FBI does not comment on investigations that have not been previously disclosed.
But the director did not mince words on Wednesday when it came to Wikileaks, which he described as a “propaganda machine.”
He also later agreed with Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-SC, when the congressman asked if he believed WikiLeaks was a danger to national security.
“In my mind, it crosses a line when it moves from being something that tries to educate the public and instead becomes about intelligence porn, quite frankly,” Comey said.
The final days of the 2016 presidential campaign have been much on people’s minds and in the press over the past few days.
On Tuesday, Hillary Clinton publicly rehashed her defeat at a luncheon in New York.
“If the election had been on October 27, I would be your president,” Clinton said during a question-and-answer session with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
It was Comey’s letter to Congress and WikiLeaks which scared voters off, she added.
President Donald Trump responded on Twitter Tuesday, taking a shot at both Clinton and Comey.
“FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds. The phony Trump/Russia story was an excuse used by the Democrats as justification for losing the election,” the president tweeted, before adding, “Perhaps Trump just ran a great campaign?”