WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers may question the decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton for using a private email server as secretary of state, but they should not question the investigation’s thoroughness, FBI Director James Comey said Wednesday.
“You can call us wrong. You can call me a fool. You cannot call us weasels,” Comey said under hours of questioning at a House Judiciary Committee hearing.
Republicans grilled Comey on the FBI’s year-long investigation into the potential mishandling of classified email, which concluded in July when the FBI recommended against prosecution and the Justice Department closed the case.
They demanded to know why multiple key witnesses had been granted some kind of immunity, questioned him on his interpretation of the key felony statute at issue and argued that the outcome revealed a double standard in the treatment of powerful public figures.
But Comey, who has repeatedly sought to explain the FBI’s decision making, again said that the case was not a close call and insisted that no one else would have been prosecuted for the same acts _ even if they might have gotten into trouble with their employer.
“To prosecute on these facts would be a double standard because Jane and Joe Smith would not be prosecuted on these facts,” Comey said.
Republicans were not assuaged, claiming that Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, illegally mishandled classified information. Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia said it “defies logic and the law that she faces no consequences for jeopardizing national security.”
GOP panel members repeatedly pressed Comey on his acknowledgment that five witnesses, including the tech expert who set up Clinton’s private server and her former chief of staff, had been granted some form of immunity. They also voiced concern with the number of people who had been in the room with Clinton during her July FBI interview.
Comey said agents granted immunity to Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s former chief of staff, because they wanted to inspect her laptop as part of the investigation. The immunity deal was limited to information contained on her laptop, Comey said.
Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, insisted that the fix was in from the start, asserting that the decision not to prosecute was made even before Clinton was interviewed in early July _ a claim Comey vigorously denied.
Ratcliffe accused Mills and other Clinton associates of obstructing justice, adding, “Maybe the decision was made a long time ago not to prosecute.”
On another topic, Comey said the FBI will have up and running within two years a database that tracks instances of police use of deadly force,
The database is intended to capture how often police officers kill citizens in the line of duty and to correct a record-keeping gap that Comey said has resulted in uninformed conversations, based on anecdotes and not facts, about use of force. Demands for more complete records have grown in the past two years amid a series of high-profile deaths at the hands of police officers.
“Everybody gets why it matters,” Comey said of the planned database at the oversight hearing of the House Judiciary Committee.
Wednesday’s hearing was the second time in two days that Comey faced questions from members of Congress.
On Tuesday, GOP senators on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee pressed him on whether anything could have been done differently to prevent recent acts of extremist violence, such as the Orlando nightclub massacre or the Manhattan bombing.
Comey told senators that the FBI is transparent about mistakes, but under questioning from Republicans, he did not agree that anything should have been done differently.