Updated Dec 15, 2019

Comey defends FBI but admits FISA failures: "I was wrong"

In a wide-ranging interview on "Fox News Sunday," former FBI director James Comey argued that the bureau was "vindicated" by the Justice Department inspector general's findings on the origins of the Russia investigation, but admitted that he was "wrong" about serious failures the watchdog found in the FBI's surveillance process.

The exchange:

WALLACE: "Seventeen significant errors in the FISA process, and you say that it was handled in a thoughtful and appropriate way."
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. Seventeen things that either should have been in the applications or at least discussed and characterized differently. It was not acceptable, so he's right, I was wrong."

Why it matters: Inspector General Michael Horowitz determined that there were 17 errors and omissions in the FBI's applications for the surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, including the altering of an email by an FBI lawyer to exclude potentially exculpatory information.

  • Horowitz said at a hearing on Capitol Hill last week that no one who "touched" the surveillance process should feel "vindicated."

The big picture: Comey argued, however, that the central conspiracy that President Trump and his allies have pushed about the Russia investigation — that it was a "treasonous" attempt by the FBI to overthrow the president — was "nonsense." Horowitz concluded that there was no evidence of political bias in the FBI's opening of the investigation.

  • This finding has been disputed, however, by Attorney General Bill Barr, whom Comey criticized for suggesting that the FBI's errors were "intentional" and politically motivated.
  • "He does not have a factual basis as the attorney general of the United States to be speculating that agents acted in bad faith," Comey said. "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."

Comey also addressed claims Trump made at a rally this week that the Russia investigation "destroyed" the lives of many people, admitting that Page was treated unfairly and that his name never should have become public. He countered, however, that Trump's "lies" about the FBI were also deeply harmful:

"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. ... Now I'm saying 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."

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Trump casts doubt on Horowitz's credibility, despite celebrating his findings

Photo: Michael Brochstein/Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

President Trump questioned Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz's credibility in a tweet on Sunday, labeling Horowitz an Obama appointee in response to a report that found that the FBI's Russia investigation was not politically motivated:

"As bad as the I.G. Report is for the FBI and others, and it is really bad, remember that I.G. Horowitz was appointed by Obama. There was tremendous bias and guilt exposed, so obvious, but Horowitz couldn’t get himself to say it. Big credibility loss. Obama knew everything!"

Why it matters: Trump is attacking Horowitz for his conclusions that the probe was not fueled by bias, while simultaneously celebrating the inspector general's findings of serious wrongdoing in the FBI's surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

Go deeperArrowDec 15, 2019

FBI director under Carter and Reagan slams Trump and Barr

Judge William Webster, former FBI and CIA director. Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

William Webster, a former federal judge and the former director of both the FBI and the CIA, said in a New York Times op-ed that President Trump and Attorney General William Barr's attacks on the FBI are "troubling in the extreme."

"Calling FBI professionals 'scum,' as the president did, is a slur against people who risk their lives to keep us safe. Mr. Barr’s charges of bias within the FBI, made without providing any evidence and in direct dispute of the findings of the nonpartisan inspector general, risk inflicting enduring damage on this critically important institution."
Go deeperArrowDec 16, 2019

Secretive FISA court orders FBI to fix surveillance standards in wake of IG report

Inspector General Horowitz. Photo: Michael Brochstein/Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court accused the FBI Tuesday of misleading it in its applications for the surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, and ordered the bureau to explain by Jan. 10 what it plans to do to ensure such abuses do not take place again.

Why it matters: It's a rare public rebuke by a court that has traditionally been veiled in secrecy, underscoring the seriousness of the misconduct uncovered by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz.

Go deeperArrowDec 17, 2019