Comey says the FBI is nonpartisan
He says it is harder to vet people from places where the United States doesn't have "robust" relationships
FBI Director James Comey said Wednesday his agency makes its decisions on a nonpartisan basis and said he doesn’t care about the political backlash of the choices he makes.
“I know that when I make a hard decision, a storm is going to follow,” Comey said at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance Leadership dinner. “Honestly, I don’t care.”
During a question-and-answer session, Comey said he regretted that the FBI confused people with decisions like announcing the reopening of an investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s email practices as secretary of state, but attributed their confusion to partisan blinders.
“People sometimes look at me and say, ‘Look at what you did, look at what you did,’” Comey said. “Most people are wearing glasses that filter the world according to (their) side.”
Comey has become a lightning rod for controversy over the past year. During the presidential campaign, he publicly announced he would not recommend the Department of Justice move to prosecute Clinton, although he did criticize her at length. Then, shortly before the election, Comey sent a letter to Congress saying the FBI was reopening its investigation.
He then sent another letter days after that, confirming the FBI was still not recommending prosecution.
Last week, Comey appeared before the House intelligence committee for a public hearing and confirmed the FBI was investigating Donald Trump’s campaign for potential collusion with Russia to bolster Trump’s electoral effort.
The FBI was party to a joint intelligence community assessment accusing Russia of attempting to influence the election. Russia has denied wrongdoing, as has Trump, who recently said on Twitter that the entire story was a “hoax.”
Asked about the House and Senate intelligence committees tasked with oversight of the FBI, Comey said it was important the FBI communicate with them as best it could and said that despite partisan flareups, the process worked “very well.”
He defended the FBI, which has been criticized by both Democrats and Republicans in the past year.
“We’re not on anybody’s side ever,” Comey said. “The FBI made these decisions in a high quality way.”
Appointed to his post in 2013 by then-President Barack Obama, before becoming an unlikely but significant figure in the 2016 presidential race, Comey has spent the past few weeks navigating the waters of the nascent Trump administration.
Trump has issued two executive orders imposing what he has called “extreme vetting” by restricting travel from several majority-Muslim nations and suspending the refugee program. Both orders have been stalled in the court system.
Comey declined to comment on specific policies, but said the government was always looking to improve its vetting system and that it is more difficult to vet people coming from places where the United States hadn’t established “robust” relationships.
“The challenge of people coming from places where we don’t have those relationships is, as good as our systems might be, we’re not going to have any dots to connect,” Comey said.
Speaking about acts of individual violence in the United States such vetting is meant to prevent, Comey called the individuals “wingnuts” and said they were troubled people the FBI was doing its best to investigate.
CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian and Mary Kay Mallonee contributed to this report.