James Comey
Credit: Rich Girard/Flickr

At this critical juncture, when Republicans refuse to call for a special commission or an independent prosecutor to investigate Russia’s attempt to influence the 2016 election, this country must rely primarily on James Comey’s FBI to do an investigation into those matters that is independent of political influence. That is a difficult premise for many who believe that he tilted the election when he went public with the news about Clinton’s emails but remained silent about the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign.

For those who want to keep the story about Clinton’s emails alive, last week Comey gave them a reason to do so when he testified at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Perhaps Comey’s most surprising revelation was that Huma Abedin — Weiner’s wife and a top Clinton deputy — had made “a regular practice” of forwarding “hundreds and thousands” of Clinton messages to her husband, “some of which contain classified information.” Comey testified that Abedin had done this so that the disgraced former congressman could print them out for her boss.

That story was picked up with blaring headlines by conservative news outlets. For example, on the Morning Joe program, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) was grilled about it.

On Morning Joe, Thursday, Willie Geist opened an interview with Connecticut’s Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal by asking point blank if Abedin’s actions were criminal.

“Do you believe that is a crime,” he asked.

Blumenthal said quite possibly.

“If there was classified information and it was improperly passed to a person unauthorized to receive it. Yes, it’s a crime,” he said. “Without knowing what the intentions were and so forth, there is potentially a prosecutable crime.”

Now we learn from ProPublica that what Comey reported was not true.

FBI officials have privately acknowledged that Comey misstated what Abedin did and what the FBI investigators found….

According to two sources familiar with the matter — including one in law enforcement — Abedin forwarded only a handful of Clinton emails to her husband for printing — not the “hundreds and thousands” cited by Comey. It does not appear Abedin made “a regular practice” of doing so. Other officials said it was likely that most of the emails got onto the computer as a result of backups of her Blackberry.

It was not clear how many, if any, of the forwarded emails were among the 12 “classified” emails Comey said had been found on Weiner’s laptop. None of the messages carried classified markings at the time they were sent.

In summary, here’s what Comey got wrong:

  • Abedin forward a handful of emails, not “hundreds and thousands”
  • It was likely a result of backups of her Blackberry – not to print them out for Clinton
  • None of the forwarded emails were marked as classified

This is not the kind of performance that inspires confidence in Comey to handle the Russia/Trump probe. He was either being deceitful or was lied to by people on his staff and ran with it. If it was the latter, only a public statement from the FBI Director about what he will do to hold staff accountable will repair the damage.

A few weeks ago Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said this about Comey:

Schiff now believes that the F.B.I. is pursuing a wide-ranging and serious investigation of potential collusion between Trump, or his associates, and the Russians. “We need to do a thorough investigation in Congress, but we don’t have anywhere near the resources that the F.B.I. does,” he told me yesterday afternoon. “So it gives me some level of confidence knowing that an agency that does have the resources is devoting itself to determining just what type of coördination might have taken place.”

I hope he’s right. But Comey’s performance last week raises the specter of doubt about his competence and reliability.

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