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How does the Comey sacking affect work at the FBI?

May 10, 2017 at 6:45 PM EDT
Before the firing of FBI Director James Comey, morale among agents had already taken a beating. How does this surprise turn affect the bureau and its work going forward? Judy Woodruff learns more from Matt Apuzzo of The New York Times about reports that Comey wanted more resources to expand the Russia investigation and more.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Meantime, inside the FBI, morale among agents had taken a beating months before last night’s firing of Director James Comey.

We take a look at how agents have been responding and what it means for the bureau’s work going forward with Matt Apuzzo. He has been covering all this closely for The New York Times.

Matt, so what is your reporting telling you what about preceded this blockbuster announcement yesterday?

MATT APUZZO, The New York Times: Well, as you heard from Lisa, the big news in terms of the investigation was that, in the days before his firing, Jim Comey was talking to the Justice Department about expanding the investigation by getting some more prosecutors involved, more resources.

And the person he was speaking with was Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. Now, that is coming — that information is coming from congressional officials, including Dick Durbin from Democratic leadership, who says that that really is calling into question the motives of the president for firing Jim Comey, at a time when it appeared that Comey was really trying to step up the investigation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I want to ask you about that, because there is reporting today that Director Comey had gone to his superiors, I guess, to the attorney general in recent days, asking to expand the Russia investigation, asking for more resources.

What you have learned about that?

MATT APUZZO: Well, you know, the Justice Department is flatly denying that, even though members of Congress are saying that Comey actually briefed them on this as part of his routine briefings on the status of the counterintelligence investigation earlier this week.

The Justice Department is saying, no, that they didn’t get a request for more resources. Members of Congress are saying they were — they were specifically briefed by Comey that he wanted to expand the investigation and was asking for more prosecutors.

So, I mean, look, we don’t know at this point. Is that is that what led to Jim Comey’s firing? Was it — was it the Russia investigation? Was it a general sense that Comey was never going to be a Trump guy, just frankly, like he wasn’t really an Obama guy, that he was — for a president who puts a real premium on loyalty, was Jim Comey just too much of a — you know, an independent wild card for this administration?

This’s just a lot of things where we’re still trying to get a handle on, because, as your reporters said earlier, a lot of this just doesn’t line up. A lot of the stated reasoning for why they wanted to fire Jim Comey just doesn’t totally line up.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What is your reporting telling you, Matt Apuzzo, about the sense inside the Justice Department, inside the FBI about whether this Russia investigation can go forward in an independent way, in a way that people will find credible?

MATT APUZZO: Well, I think that the sense at the FBI is, we move forward.

The acting director, Andrew McCabe, is a career FBI agent. You know, there would be no reason for him to put the brakes on the Russia investigation, you know, just because Jim Comey was fired.

I think the concern among the agents is not where things are today. And, frankly, the concern isn’t that a new director is going — or that the Justice Department is going to put the brakes on and just shut down the Russia investigation.

But what the Justice Department can do, if it wants to, is, it can just throw up a lot of hurdles and roadblocks and make it difficult for FBI agents to investigate Russia. And that’s really the concern.

But, in general, I think there’s — the mood is down at the FBI right now. Comey was a well-liked manager. Even agents who disagreed with some of the decisions he made in the Clinton case regarded him as professional and well-intentioned and a strong leader.

This is probably the most public and strong FBI director the bureau has had since J. Edgar Hoover. So, there’s clearly a sense of loss at the FBI today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I quickly want to press you on that, because, at the White House today, they were saying, no, that Jim Comey had lost the confidence of much of the employees at the FBI, at the bureau.

MATT APUZZO: Yes, they didn’t really elaborate on that.

Look, I know there are people at the FBI who disagreed with the decisions that Jim Comey made. There are 17,000 FBI agents. Are there some who had lost confidence in the FBI director? I’m sure that’s the case.

But all the reporting that I have done and the reporting that my colleague Adam Goldman does, who covers the FBI for The New York Times, is that this was a real this was a real jolt, and a real down moment for the FBI.

And as one agent I have known for a long time said, you know, Donald Trump lost the FBI today.

Now, can he get it back? You know, we will see who he nominates. But it’s not good for the president to have an FBI feeling like they’re a little bit under siege or that the president doesn’t trust their independence.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Matt Apuzzo with The New York Times, some excellent reporting. Thank you, Matt.

MATT APUZZO: Thank you so much for having me.

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