Former FBI Director James Comey defended the FBI and ripped President Donald Trump’s constant criticisms of the agency, detailing how worried they had made his family – even convincing Comey’s mother-in-law that he was going to jail.
The interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on “Anderson Cooper 360” came the same days as the release of a highly anticipated report by the Justice Department’s inspector general that established that the FBI properly opened its investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 election but said there were major errors in how the agency conducted the probe.
In the interview, Comey reiterated many of the points he made in an op-ed for The Washington Post earlier Monday, and said he regrets how much Trump was able to set the tone for the interview’s release – even convincing Comey’s mother-in-law he was going to jail.
“Every time we would visit she would express that worry,” Comey said. “I would tell her, look, it’s all made up. There’s zero chance of that. But she believes what she sees on television and she’s not unlike millions of others who are drinking this in for two years. So where does the FBI go to get its reputation back? We have to talk about this result.”
The report concluded that officials at the FBI had enough information to properly launch the investigation in 2016, and dispel the claim that US intelligence agencies tried to plant spies in the Trump campaign.
Trump has boosted that narrative without evidence for months and popularized the term “Spy-gate.”
Comey immediately started working to push back against Trump’s narratives after the report was released.
“On Monday, we learned from a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, that the allegation of a criminal conspiracy was nonsense,” Comey said in the op-ed, which published after the report was released. “There was no illegal wiretapping, there were no informants inserted into the campaign, there was no ‘spying’ on the Trump campaign. Although it took two years, the truth is finally out.”
Trump became just the second president in US history to fire his FBI director when he dismissed Comey in May 2017. Comey was leading the investigation into whether Trump campaign members colluded with Russians who hacked the 2016 election. The Trump administration said it was getting rid of Comey because of the way he handled the Hillary Clinton email probe.
In the op-ed, Comey also said Barr, who disputed findings noted in the report, “owes the institution he leads, and the American people, an acknowledgment of the truth.”
Barr and the US attorney he picked to lead a separate probe into the origins of the Russia investigation criticized the FBI on Monday, with the attorney general excoriating the FBI for launching what he called an “intrusive investigation” into a presidential campaign based on the “thinnest of suspicions.”
In his interview with Cooper, Comey said he was also disappointed in US Attorney John Durham – the federal prosecutor in Connecticut who Barr picked to lead the probe – commenting on the report.
“The whole statement mystifies me. We’ve come to understand the attorney general envisions his role as being a spokesperson for the President,” Comey said. “But John Durham is a professional. And I hope he explains what on earth are you doing talking about an investigation like that in that manner that’s still going on. The Department of Justice requires a compelling public interest to talk about a pending investigation. What exactly is that here? “What are you doing, man?’ is the question I’d have for him.”
Trump on Monday called the FBI investigation an “attempted overthrow” and an “embarrassment.”
“The IG report just came out and I was just briefed on it and it’s a disgrace what’s happened with respect to the things that were done to our country,” Trump said during a roundtable on school choice at the White House. “It is incredible, far worse than I would’ve ever thought possible.”
Comey said in response that Trump’s theories on the investigation were “all lies.”
“For two years the President of the United States accused our premier law enforcement agency of treason, of trying to defeat him, of trying to stop him,” Comey told Cooper. “And it turns out that was all nonsense, that was all lies. We have to pause and think about that because we need this institution.”
CNN’s Paul LeBlanc, David Shortell, Evan Perez, Marshall Cohen and Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.