Chris Wallace Grills James Comey On Horowitz Report, FISA Abuse: "You Make It Sound Like You Were A Bystander" | Video | RealClearPolitics

Chris Wallace Grills James Comey On Horowitz Report; Comey Admits "I Was Wrong" And "Overconfident" On FISA Process


"Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace questions former FBI Director James Comey about the Department of Justice inspector general Michael Horowitz's report on the origins of the FBI's Trump/Russia investigation. Comey admitted to being "overconfident" in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court process and said there was "sloppiness" in the investigation.

"He's right, I was wrong," Comey said about how the FBI used the FISA process, adding, "I was overconfident as director in our procedures," and that what happened "was not acceptable."

Wallace asked Comey about his characterization of the Steele dossier's role in the FBI's application to the FISA court for a warrant to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page: "You say it was part of a broader mosaic, Horowitz says it played a central role."

Comey replied: "I'm not sure he and I are saying different things. What his report says is that the FBI thought it was a close call until they got the Steele report, put that additional information in and that tipped it over to be probable cause. It's a long FISA application and includes Steele material and lots of other things, I don't think we're saying different things."

"I think you are sir," Wallace stated.

"You make it sound like you were a bystander, an eyewitness. You were the director of the FBI while a lot of this was going on," Wallace also said to Comey.

"Sure, I'm responsible, that's why I'm telling you, I was wrong. I was overconfident as the director in our procedures. And it's important that a leader be accountable and transparent. If I was still director I'd be saying exactly the same thing Chris Wray is saying which is 'we are going to get to the bottom of this.' Because the most important question is, is it systemic? Are there problems in other cases?" Comey replied.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS SUNDAY: You have been taking something of a victory lap since the IG report was released earlier this week. The question is whether or not it's justified. Here are you and the Inspector General Michael Horowitz answering the same question.

REPORTER: Do you think this is vindication?

FORMER FBI DIRECTOR JAMES COMEY: It is. I mean, the FBI's had to wait two years while the president and his followers lied about the institution. Finally the truth gets told.

REPORTER: Does your report vindicate Mr. Comey?

DOJ INSPECTOR GENERAL MICHAEL HOROWITZ: It doesn't vindicate anyone at the FBI who touched this, including the leadership.

CHRIS WALLACE: The IG says you should feel no vindication.

JAMES COMEY: Well, maybe it turns upon how we understand the word. What I mean is that the FBI was accused of treason, of illegal spying, of tapping Mr. Trump's wires illegally, of opening an investigation without justification of being a criminal conspiracy to unseat -- defeat and then unseat a president. All of that was nonsense. I think it's really important that the inspector general looked at that and that the American people, your viewers and all viewers, understand that's true. But he also found things that we were never accused of, which is real sloppiness, and that's concerning. As I've said all along, has to be focused on. If I were director I'd be very concerned about it and diving into it.

CHRIS WALLACE: Well, sloppiness may be a euphemism for what it is he found. One of his big concerns is the way the FBI handled the FISA applications and the warrants that you were -- allowed you to surveil Carter Page, who was a former foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign. Again, here is what you said about the FISA process and what the inspector general Horowitz said this week. Take a look.

JAMES COMEY: I have total confidence that the FISA process was followed and that the entire case was handled in a thoughtful, responsible way by DOJ and the FBI.

MICHAEL HOROWITZ: We identified significant inaccuracies and omissions in each of the four applications, seven in the first application, and a total of 17 by the final renewal application.

CHRIS WALLACE: Seventeen significant errors in the FISA process and you say that it was handled in a thoughtful and appropriate way.

JAMES COMEY: He's right. I was wrong. I was overconfident in the procedures that the FBI and Justice had built over 20 years. I thought they were robust enough. It's incredibly hard to get a FISA. I was overconfident in those. Because he's right. There was real sloppiness, 17 things that either should've been in the applications or at least discussed and characterized differently. It was not acceptable and so he's right. I was wrong.

CHRIS WALLACE: But you make it sound like you're a bystander, an eyewitness. You were the director of the FBI while a lot of this was going on, sir.

JAMES COMEY: Sure. I'm responsible for it. That's why I'm telling you I was wrong. I was overconfident as director in our procedures and it's important that a leader be accountable and transparent. If I were still director, I'd be saying exactly the same thing that Chris Wray is saying, which is we are going to get to the bottom of this. Because the most important question is, is it systemic? Are there problems in other cases?

CHRIS WALLACE: One of the central issues is the role that the Steele dossier played which was oppo-research paid for by the Democrats, what role it played in getting the FISA warrants to surveil Page. Again, here's your version and, again, here is the inspector general.

JAMES COMEY: My recollection was it was part of a broader mosaic of facts that were laid before the FISA judge to obtain a FISA warrant.

MICHAEL HOROWITZ: And we concluded that the Steele reporting played a central and essential role in the decision to seek a FISA order.

CHRIS WALLACE: Horowitz says it wasn't part -- as you told Bret Baier -- it wasn't part of a broader mosaic. He said it played an essential role in establishing probable cause. In fact, he says, if it hadn't been for the Steele dossier, the FBI probably would haven't even submitted a FISA application -- that it had been reviewed in April of 2016 -- or August, rather, of 2016 -- they decided not to do it. They get the Steele dossier. They do it. It wasn't part of a broader mosaic. That's what you said, sir.

JAMES COMEY: I'm not sure he and I are saying different things. What his report says is that the FBI thought it was a close call until they got the Steele report, put that additional information in, and that tipped it over to be probable cause. It's a long FISA application. It includes Steele material and lots of other material. I don't think we're saying different things.

CHRIS WALLACE: Well, I think you are, sir, because he's saying -- you're saying it's part of a broader mosaic; it's just one element. He's saying it was the tipping point. It's what brought it over. That doesn't make it part of a broader mosaic; it makes it the centerpiece of the whole FISA application and the ability to surveil Carter Page.

JAMES COMEY: Yeah. I don't understand it to be saying that. I could be wrong about that --

CHRIS WALLACE: Well, I've just -- I've got his --

JAMES COMEY: -- I understand --

CHRIS WALLACE: -- quote here. He says, "We concluded the Steele reporting played a central and essential role in the decision to seek a FISA warrant, that it pushed the FISA proposal over the line in terms of establishing probable cause." I mean, he says --


CHRIS WALLACE: -- what he says. Words mean something.

JAMES COMEY: Yeah. And I agree with his characterization. I'm just confused -- I know -- I don't see the disconnect between the two of us. And I'm sorry that I'm missing it.

CHRIS WALLACE: Well, you don't see a difference between "It's part of a broader mosaic" and "It was the -- it played an essential role in establishing probable cause?"

JAMES COMEY: It was one of a bunch of different facts that were assembled to apply to the court. It was the one that convinced the lawyers that they had enough now, with that added to the pile, to go forward.

CHRIS WALLACE: I guess the question is, it seemed that you were minimizing the role of the Steele Dossier, and he's saying it's a lot more important than you let on.

JAMES COMEY: Okay. If I was, then I'm sorry that I did that. But I meant that it was one part of the presentation to the court. It was not a huge part of the presentation to the court, but it was the fact, according to his report, that convinced the lawyers to go forward.

CHRIS WALLACE: All right. Then there is the issue of how reliable the Steele dossier, in fact, was. On January 6th, 2017, in the Trump Tower, you briefed Donald Trump -- president-elect -- about the Steele dossier. That same month, the FBI talks to Steele's main Russian contact -- the main person on whom he based the dossier, who says, according to the IG report -- quote -- "Steele misstated or exaggerated the primary sub-source's statements in multiple sections of the reporting." Director Comey, not only do you fail to go back to the president-elect -- or president, after January 20th -- and tell him, "Oh, you know that report I briefed you on? Turns out it's bunk" -- but the FBI goes back and renews its FISA application three more times. And by this point, the FBI knows that the Steele reporting is not credible.

JAMES COMEY: Yeah. I think you're mischaracterizing both what the FBI knew and what Mr. Horowitz says in his report. They didn't conclude the reporting from Steele was bunk; they concluded there was significant questions about the reliability of some of the sub-source reporting. That should have been included in the renewals. But when I briefed the president, I briefed him on a small part of it that I told him I didn't know whether it was true or not; I didn't care. I just needed him to know about it.

CHRIS WALLACE: I think you're mischaracterizing. Steele isn't -- or rather, Horowitz isn't saying that the sub-source, the Russian contact, was unreliable or was inaccurate. The Russian contact said to the FBI, "Steele is unreliable because he misrepresented." Steele misstated or exaggerated the source's statements in multiple sections of the report. He's saying, "I told him one thing, and he wrote something else." The FBI knew that.

JAMES COMEY: Yeah, but that doesn't drive a conclusion that Steele's reporting is bunk. I mean, there's a number of tricky things to that. First, you're interviewing the sub-source after all of the reporting has become public. And so, as a counter-intelligence investigator, you have to think, "Is he walking away from it because it's now public" --

CHRIS WALLACE: Well, but --

JAMES COMEY: And that has to go into your assessment if Mr. Steele --

CHRIS WALLACE: But it doesn't -- it hasn't -- I mean, if it had become public, just barely -- this is in January of 2017. This isn't two years later.

JAMES COMEY: Right. This is when it blew up, when it was published by whatever the outfit is -- BuzzFeed. It was all over the news and had become a big deal. And so, I --

CHRIS WALLACE: Did you know all of this?

JAMES COMEY: All of what?

CHRIS WALLACE: Everything that we're talking about here. Did you know that, in fact, the Steele report was the key for probable cause? Did you know that the FBI had talked to the Russian contact and he said what Steele said -- he had told him was not true? Did you know this? You're the FBI director.

JAMES COMEY: First, again, the report will speak for itself. I don't believe the FBI concluded that Steele's reporting was bunk, after talking to his sub-source. But no, I didn't. As the director, you're not kept informed on the details of an investigation. So, no, in general, I didn't know what they'd learned from the sub-source. I didn't know the particulars of the investigation.

CHRIS WALLACE: But this isn't some investigation, sir. This is an investigation of the campaign of the man who is the president of the United States. You had just been through a firestorm investigating Hillary Clinton. I would think, if I were in your position, I would have been on that, you know, like a junkyard dog. I would have wanted to know everything they were doing in investigating the Trump campaign.

JAMES COMEY: Yeah. That's not the way it works, though. As a director sitting on top of an organization of 38,000 people, you can't run an investigation that's seven layers below you. You have to leave it to the career professionals to do, to the special agents who do this for their lives. And if a director tires to run an investigation, it'll get mucked up in all different kinds of ways, given his or her responsibilities and the impossibility of reaching the work that's being done at the lower level.

CHRIS WALLACE: All right. And then there is -- best for last -- the worst misconduct. In August of 2016, just two weeks into the investigation, the CIA tells the FBI that it actually has a relationship with Carter Page -- that when he has these meetings with the Russians, he actually goes back and he tells the CIA about it. But you never tell the FISA court that. And in fact, in 2017, an FBI lawyer doctors a document. The CIA said, "Oh, Carter Page, he's a source." And he puts in the application he's not a source.

JAMES COMEY: Yeah, I've got to take issue with one of the -- I'll answer the question -- but one of the predications of your question. The Inspector General did not find misconduct by any FBI people. He found mistakes and negligence in oversight --

CHRIS WALLACE: No, no, no. It is not true --

JAMES COMEY: He did not --

CHRIS WALLACE: In the case of Kevin Clinesmith, he has referred it for criminal investigation.

JAMES COMEY: Right. But that's not been resolved, this business with the lawyer changing some email to a partner on the team.

CHRIS WALLACE: I mean, you make it sound like it's not much.

JAMES COMEY: No. No. It's very important.

CHRIS WALLACE: It's quite a lot.

JAMES COMEY: It's very important.

CHRIS WALLACE: I mean, not a source -- a source to not a source is a big deal.

JAMES COMEY: But remember how we got here. The FBI was accused of criminal misconduct. Remember, I was going to jail, and lots of other people were going to jail. People on this network said it over, and over, and over again. The Inspector General did not find misconduct by FBI personnel, did not find political bias, did not find illegal conduct. The Inspector General found significant mistakes, and that is not something to sneeze at; that's really important. But the American people -- especially your viewers -- need to realize, they were given false information about the FBI. It's honest. It is not political. It is flawed.

CHRIS WALLACE: Would you agree that the FISA court was also given false information by the FBI?

JAMES COMEY: I think that's fair. The FBI should have included -- or at least pushed to the lawyers, so they could make a decision -- information that you just said, things like that, that another agency -- not a source relationship, but some kind of contact relationship --



CHRIS WALLACE: I want to get to three last questions.


CHRIS WALLACE: And one of them has to do with how serious -- what this is. You've talked a lot about mistakes or sloppiness. Horowitz concludes three separate teams made significant errors in four separate FISA applications, on one of the FBI's most significant cases -- I mean, the investigation of President Trump and his campaign.

JAMES COMEY: He was -- Trump -- I have to keep correcting you. President Trump was not being investigated. His campaign was not being investigated. Four Americans -- two of whom were no longer associated with the campaign -- were being investigated.

CHRIS WALLACE: Okay. He was asked how he explains it -- Horowitz. Here he is.

MICHAEL HOROWITZ:It's unclear what the motivations were. On the one hand, gross incompetence, negligence. On the other hand, intentionality.

CHRIS WALLACE: Gross negligence or they intended to do it. They intended to lie to the FISA court. You were in charge during a lot of this, sir.


CHRIS WALLACE: And in fact, you signed the FISA applications.

JAMES COMEY: Sure. I think I signed at least two or three of them. He doesn't conclude that there was intentional misconduct by these career special agents.

CHRIS WALLACE: No. He just says it's one of two things, and he can't decide: gross negligence or it was intentional misconduct.

JAMES COMEY: Well, I've read --

CHRIS WALLACE: That's what he said.

JAMES COMEY: I've read his report. He says, "I -- we are not concluding that there was intentional misconduct by FBI officials."

CHRIS WALLACE: Did you hear what he just said here?

JAMES COMEY: I did. I don't know the context of that. I've --

CHRIS WALLACE: He was asked specifically, "How do you explain it?" And he said, "Gross negligence or intentionality."

JAMES COMEY: Yeah. Well, I'm sorry. He doesn't find intentionality, but that doesn't make it any less important. As director, you are responsible for this. I was responsible for this. And if I were still there, I'd be doing what Chris Wray is doing -- is figuring out, "So, how did this happen? And is it systemic?" Because that's the scariest thought, is that --

CHRIS WALLACE: If you were still there, and all of this came out, and it turned out it happened on your watch, would you resign?

JAMES COMEY: No. I don't think so. There are mistakes I consider more consequential than this during my tenure, and the important thing is to be transparent about it and then look to fix it, and explain to the American people how you fixed it.

CHRIS WALLACE: A couple of final questions. As you know, Attorney General Barr has been harshly critical of how the FBI conducted this entire operation. Here’s how he reacted to the IG’s findings of whatever you want to call it, in the handling of the FISA applications.

BILL BARR: These irregularities, these misstatements, these omissions, were not satisfactorily explained, and I think that leaves open the possibility to infer bad faith.

CHRIS WALLACE: Given the repeated errors -- some would say abuses -- of the FISA process, does Attorney General Barr have a point?

JAMES COMEY: No. He does not have a factual basis as the attorney general of the United States to be speculating that agents acted in bad faith. The facts just aren’t there, full stop. That doesn’t make it any less consequential, any less important, but that’s an irresponsible statement.

CHRIS WALLACE: Finally, here’s President Trump, and here’s how he reacted to the IG report on the FBI investigation.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They’ve destroyed the lives of people that were great people, that are still great people. Their lives have been destroyed by scum, okay? By scum.

CHRIS WALLACE: I’d like your response to that, and I’d like you specifically -- because you said the other day, “Where does former FBI lawyer Lisa Page go to get her reputation back?” where does Carter Page go -- the target of these FISA warrants and surveillance -- where does he go to get his reputation back?

JAMES COMEY: It’s a great question. Carter Page was treated unfairly, most significantly by his name being made public. He’s a United States citizen, and it never should have been made public, and that’s an outrage. But that statement is just a continuation of the lies about the FBI. The FBI is an honest, apolitical organization. Remember the treason; remember the spying; remember all of us going to jail. That was false information that your viewers and millions of others were given. My own mother-in-law was worried I was going to jail. I kept telling her, “Look, it’s all made up, it’s all made up. Don’t worry about it.” But I couldn’t say that publicly for two years. Well, now I’m saying it on behalf of the FBI. It was all made up, and I hope people will stare at that and learn about what the FBI is like, human and flawed, but deeply committed to trying to do the right thing.

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