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News Wrap: Comey defends his impartiality on Clinton, Trump probes

May 3, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
FBI Director James Comey is sworn in to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTS14ZWC

JUDY WOODRUFF: A tense time today for the man who runs the Federal Bureau of Investigation. James Comey spent hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee rejecting criticism that he has mishandled investigations of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

Lisa Desjardins has the story.

JAMES COMEY, FBI Director: I have lived my entire career by the tradition of that, if you can possibly avoid it, you avoid any action in the run-up to an election that might have an impact, whether it’s a dogcatcher election or president of the United States.

LISA DESJARDINS: But, today, FBI Director James Comey faced the charges that he did impact the 2016 presidential election, when he sent this letter to Congress on October 28, 11 days before Election Day, revealing new steps in an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, D-Calif.: I have one question, and I view it as a most important question.

LISA DESJARDINS: Ranking Democrat Dianne Feinstein asked today why he broke normal FBI protocol.

JAMES COMEY: I could see two doors, and they were both actions. One was labeled speak, and the other was labeled conceal. Look, this was terrible. It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we have had some impact on the election. But, honestly, it wouldn’t change the decision.

Everybody who disagrees with me has to come back to October 28 with me, and stare at this and tell me what you would do.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: You took an enormous gamble. The gamble was that there was something there that would invalidate her candidacy, and there wasn’t.

LISA DESJARDINS: Democrats also pointed out that Comey had been silent at the time about the ongoing investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia. He argued there was a difference, that he had previously told Congress the Clinton probe was closed and he needed to reverse that.

And he insisted to Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono that he was impartial:

JAMES COMEY: I wasn’t thinking of what effect it might have on a political campaign.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO, D-Hawaii: I find that hard to believe that you didn’t contemplate that there would be political ramifications to your comments. And I’m just wondering why…

JAMES COMEY: I knew there would be ramifications. I just tried not to care about them.

LISA DESJARDINS: Texas Republican John Cornyn defended Comey and pointed back at Clinton.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-Texas: You are not the one who made the decision to handle classified information on a private e-mail server.

LISA DESJARDINS: The hearing was full of other news as well. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina pressed Comey on Russia.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: Is it fair to say that the Russian government is still involved in American politics?

JAMES COMEY: Yes, well, certainly, in my view, the greatest threat of any nation on Earth, given their intention and their capability.

LISA DESJARDINS: And on issues of privacy, Comey said encryption has blocked the FBI from getting data off devices in nearly half its cases.

JAMES COMEY: None of us want backdoors. We don’t want access to devices built in, in some way. What we want to work with manufacturers on is to figure out, how can we accommodate both interests in a sensible way?

LISA DESJARDINS: One more hot topic? President Trump’s proposed ban on immigrants from some Muslim countries.

Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy:

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, D-Vt.: Does that make America less safe?

JAMES COMEY: Senator, thank you.

I’m not going to comment on the particular statement, but I do agree that a perception or reality of hostility towards any community, but in this — particularly the Muslim American community, makes our jobs harder.

LISA DESJARDINS: As for his own job, Comey’s 10-year term runs out in 2023.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Lisa Desjardins at the U.S. Capitol.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news: The U.S. House of Representatives easily approved a compromise bill to fund the government through September. That’s the end of this fiscal year. It totals $1.1 trillion, and it includes an increase in defense spending, but it ignores several other of President Trump’s priorities, including money for a border wall.

Leaders on both sides praised the rare example of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats.

REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis., Speaker of the House: This is a bipartisan piece of legislation. And so each side doesn’t get everything they want, but we are able to come together and find a package that advances many of our important goals.

REP. STENY HOYER, D-Md., Minority Whip: Democratic members’ participation is absolutely essential if we’re going to pass fiscal bills and appropriation bills. And I’m glad that the Republican leadership and negotiators came to that conclusion and worked with us to advance this omnibus to the floor.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The legislation now heads to the Senate for approval before this week is out.

A revised Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare gained key endorsements in the House today. Moderate Republican Fred Upton and conservative Billy Long said they will support the bill. They spoke after meeting with President Trump on their amendment to help cover people with preexisting conditions.

REP. FRED UPTON, R-Mich.: He said that this bill would be just as strong on preexisting illnesses as Obamacare. I want him to keep that pledge. This amendment allows that to happen, and cover those that otherwise might have been excluded.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The amendment adds $8 billion to the bill over five years. Leaders of the House conservative Freedom Caucus endorsed the proposal, and said that the vast majority of their members will support it. But as of the time we went on the air, no vote has been scheduled.

In Eastern Missouri, another wave of heavy rain is adding to a flood emergency that’s already claimed five lives. The swollen Meramec River neared an all-time high in suburban Saint Louis today, damaging 200 homes and threatening some 1,500 more. Parts of two interstate highways are also underwater, and a section of the Mississippi River is closed.

The U.S. Justice Department confirmed today it will not charge two white policemen in the killing of a black man in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Cell phone video from last July showed Alton Sterling pinned, but struggling. One officer yelled that he was reaching for a gun, and then he shot him.

In Baton Rouge today, U.S. attorney Corey Amundson said there are no solid grounds for a civil rights violation.

COREY AMUNDSON, Acting U.S. Attorney: After an exhaustive, almost year-long investigation, all of the prosecutors and agents involved in this case have come to the conclusion that insufficient evidence exists to charge either officer with a federal crime in connection with this incident.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The attorney general of Louisiana says that he will now investigate whether state criminal charges should be filed against the officers.

North Korea confirmed today that it has detained another American citizen. State TV said that Kim Sang Dok, an instructor at Pyongyang University, was picked up on last month. He is accused of acts aimed at overthrowing the government. Kim is now one of three Americans being held by the North.

President Trump’s America-first policy means that human rights will not determine U.S. relations with foreign governments. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took that message to his employees today. He said that, in some cases — quote — “If you condition our national security efforts on someone adopting our values, it really does create obstacles.”

President Trump hosted Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas today, and vowed to try to make peace in the Middle East. The White House meeting was their first, and over lunch in the Cabinet Room, Mr. Trump said there’s a very good chance of getting a peace deal.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It’s a — something that I think is, frankly, maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years. But we need two willing parties. We believe Israel is willing. We believe you’re willing. And if you both are willing, we’re going to make a deal.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president met with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in February.

Former President Obama’s foundation has unveiled the plans for his presidential library and civic center. The site would cover 225,000 square feet along Lake Michigan, on Chicago’s South Side. It includes a tower-like museum, and other buildings, and it’s expected to cost at least $500 million.

Wall Street made little headway today. The Dow Jones industrial average gained eight points to close near 20958. The Nasdaq fell almost 23 points, and the S&P 500 gave up three.

And Boston baseball fans are trying to make amends to an opposing player who faced racist taunts. Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles spoke out after Monday’s game with the Red Sox. Last night, Jones got an extended standing ovation when he came to the plate at Fenway Park for his first at-bat. The two teams play again tonight.

Still to come on the NewsHour: the latest push by Republicans to win support for a replacement to Obamacare; in South Sudan, rape used as a weapon of war; a free press under threat worldwide; and much more.

After fits, starts and failure, Republicans in Congress are aiming for a new amendment to win over enough votes to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.