At an annual FBI oversight hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committe on Wednesday, FBI director James Comey said that former Attorney General Loretta Lynch's decision to meet with Bill Clinton on an airplane in Arizona forced his hand on his decision about whether or not to go public with the details about the FBI's investigation into Hillary Clinton.
His decision to tell the public, he said "Offered us the best chance of the American people believing in the system, that it was done in a credible way."
Hillary Clinton: Bill Clinton-Loretta Lynch Plane Discussion "A Short, Chance Meeting" That "Was Purely Social
"I'm not picking on the Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who I like very much," Comey said. "But her meeting with President Clinton on that airplane was the capper for me. [After that], I then said, you know what, the [Justice Department] cannot by itself credibly end this."
He continued: "The best chance we have as a justice system is if I do something I never imagined before, step away from them and tell the American people, look, here's what the FBI did, here's what we found, here's what we think. And that that offered us the best chance of the American people believing in the system, that it was done in a credible way."
JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: And I -- I -- I've lived my whole life caring about the credibility and the integrity of the criminal justice process, that the American people believe it to be and that it be in fact fair, independent and honest. And so what I struggled with in the spring of last year was how do we credibly complete the investigation of Hillary Clinton's e-mails if we conclude there's no case there?
The normal way to do it would be to the Department of Justice announce it. And I struggled as we got closer to the end of it with the -- a number things had gone on, some of which I can't talk about yet, that made me worry that the department leadership could not credibly complete the investigation and declined prosecution without grievous damage to the American people's confidence in the -- in the justice system.
And then the capper was -- and I'm not picking on the -- the Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who I like very much -- but her meeting with President Clinton on that airplane was the capper for me. And I then said, you know what, the department cannot by itself credibly end this. The best chance we have as a justice system is if I do something I never imagined before, step away from them and tell the American people, look, here's what the FBI did, here's what we found, here's what we think. And that that offered us the best chance of the American people believing in the system, that it was done in a credible way.
That was a hard call for me to make to the call the attorney general that morning and say I'm about to do a press conference and I'm not going to tell you what I'm going to say. And I said to her, hope someday you'll understand why I think I have to do this. But look, I wasn't loving this.
I knew this would be disastrous for me personally, but I thought this is the best way to protect these institutions that we care so much about. And having done that, and then having testified repeatedly under oath we're done, this was done in a credible way, there's no there there.
That when the Anthony Weiner thing landed on me on October 27 and there was a huge -- this is what people forget -- new step to be taken, we may be finding the golden missing e-mails that would change this case. If I were not to speak about that, it would be a disastrous, catastrophic concealment.
It was an incredibly painful choice, but actually not all that hard between very bad and catastrophic. I had to tell Congress that we were taking these additional steps. I prayed to find a third door. I couldn't find it. Two actions speak or conceal. I don't think many reasonable people would do it differently than I did, no matter what they say today.
If you were standing there staring at that on October 28, would you really conceal that. So I spoke. Again, the design was to act credibly, independently and honestly so the American people know the system's not rigged in any way. And that's why I felt transparency was the best path in July.
And that I wasn't seeking transparency. In October, I sent that letter only to the chairs and rankings. Yes, did I know they really going to leak it? Of course, I know how Congress works, but I did not make an announcement at that point.
And then my amazing people moved heaven and earth to do what was impossible to get through those e-mails by working 24 hours a day and then said, honestly, sir, we found tons of new stuff doesn't change our view. And I said, are you sure, don't do it just because you're under pressure.
They said, we're sure, we don't believe there's a case against Hillary Clinton. I said, then by God, I got to tell Congress that and know I'm going to get a storm at me for that. But what I can promise you all along is I said to people, you may think we're idiots, we're honest people.
We made judgments trying to do the right thing and I believe, even with hindsight, we made the right decisions. And I'm sorry for that long answer.