WASHINGTON — Former FBI Director James Comey acknowledged Sunday that a Justice Department inspector general report identified “real sloppiness” in the surveillance of a former Trump campaign aide and said he was wrong to have been “overconfident” about how the Russia investigation was handled.
But Comey also insisted he was right to feel some measure of vindication because the report did not find evidence for the most sensational of President Donald Trump’s claims, including that he had been wiretapped and illegally spied on and that the FBI had committed treason in investigating ties between Russia and his 2016 campaign.
“Remember how we got here,” Comey said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “The FBI was accused of criminal misconduct. Remember, I was going to jail, and lots of other people were going to jail.”
The inspector general, he added, “did not find misconduct by FBI personnel, did not find political bias, did not find illegal conduct.” The significant mistakes the inspector general identified are “not something to sneeze at” but also not evidence of intentional misconduct, Comey said.
The report by Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded that the FBI opened the Russia investigation for a legitimate reason and was not motivated by partisan bias when it did so. But Horowitz also found major errors and omissions in applications the FBI submitted to eavesdrop on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. Those problems include the omission of key information about the reliability of a source whose information had been relied on for the warrant, and the altering of an email by an FBI lawyer.
Comey said in retrospect that he was wrong when he told an interviewer last year that the applications to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court were handled in a “thoughtful, responsible way.”
“I was overconfident in the procedures that the FBI and Justice had built over 20 years. I thought they were robust enough. It’s incredibly hard to get a FISA. I was overconfident in those,” Comey said Sunday.
“Because he’s right,” Comey added, referring to Horowitz. “There was real sloppiness, 17 things that either should’ve been in the applications or at least discussed and characterized differently. It was not acceptable and so he’s right. I was wrong.”
Current FBI Director Christopher Wray told The Associated Press last week that the report identified problems that the report found problems that are “unacceptable and unrepresentative of who we are as an institution.” The FBI is taking more than 40 steps to fix those problems, he said.
Horowitz told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that no one who was involved in the warrant application process should feel vindicated, rejecting claims of vindication that Comey had made in an opinion piece earlier in the week. Comey said Sunday that he simply meant that the report had debunked some of the gravest allegations that Trump and his supporters had made.
“All of that was nonsense. I think it’s really important that the inspector general looked at that and that the American people, your viewers and all viewers, understand that’s true,” Comey said.
He also criticized Attorney General William Barr for saying in a separate interview last week that the many errors by the FBI left open the possibility that agents may have acted in bad faith.
“The facts just aren’t there, full stop,” Comey said, when asked whether Barr has a valid point. “That doesn’t make it any less consequential, any less important, but that’s an irresponsible statement.”