James Comey’s 'no clue' routine on Russia probe exposes an FBI in distress

Ex-Director claims he was kept in dark or can't remember about key developments. Former FBI managers fear he was either inept or is currently in legal jeopardy.

Published: September 30, 2020 8:38pm

Updated: October 1, 2020 8:37am

When history looks back decades from now, fired FBI Director James Comey's latest testimony before the Senate may be remembered, remarkably, not for what he knew but, rather, what he claimed he didn't know.

Time and again on Wednesday under the intense glare of the political spotlight, Comey claimed he had been kept in the dark or did not remember anything about essential developments in the Russia collusion probe that implied President Trump's innocence.

"That doesn't ring any bells with me," Comey answered when Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham asked about a September 2016 referral to the FBI alleging Hillary Clinton and her campaign may have concocted the whole Russia collusion case against Trump to hide her own vulnerabilities.

Similarly, Comey testified he either did not remember or was not told there were serious problems with the Christopher Steele dossier, that the dossier contained Russia disinformation, that Steele's primary sub-source had disputed information in the explosive document or that the primary sub-source had previously been judged to be a possible Russian asset back between 2009 and 2011.

All those essential facts were kept from the FISA court, and Comey signed three FISA warrant applications approving surveillance targeting the Trump campaign and former adviser Carter Page without disclosing the flaws in the case.

Senators reacted with incredulity.

"Comey said he didnt kno abt problems w Page FISA b4 he approved again+again," Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), one of the chamber's longest serving members, tweeted in shorthand. "If true wheres his outrage that agents made him look foolish by w/holding details? I often tell new agency heads either u run agency or agency runs u Who ran FBI during Russiagate+Where is accountability?" 

Grassley repeatedly slammed Comey's "no clue" answers as outrageous. Similarly, Graham repeatedly challenged Comey's account, calling one of his answers "far-fetched."

"A bunch of crap to be used against an American citizen," Graham said, referring to now-disproven information in the Page FISA. "You don't recall this?"

"It doesn't sound familiar," Comey answered.

Lawmakers weren't the only ones in disbelief.

Former senior executives of the FBI told Just the News that Comey's testimony laid bare an institution in deep distress that either was keeping its director in the dark about one of the most explosive political cases of all time or engaging in a coverup of epic investigative misconduct that deceived the FISA court and the Congress.

"'I don't recall' is the last defense of someone who has been painted into a corner. If Comey was truly this ignorant of arguably the most consequential case in FBI history, then he was pathetically inept," said Kevin Brock, the former assistant director for intelligence under Comey's predecessor as director, Robert Mueller. 

"But it is far more likely that he was provided with detailed briefings of such a high-profile case on a daily basis, as is routine tradition with FBI directors.  Comey knows what he is forgetting," he added.

In his testimony, Comey chose to embrace the first theory — incompetence — telling senators the pattern of mistakes and misconduct identified in the Russia probe "reflects entirely on me" in his role as top executive at the FBI.

When Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) called the problems identified in Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz's investigative report "really embarrassing," Comey agreed while insisting none was intended to be criminal conduct. 

"I think I share your reaction Senator Sasse," Comey answered. "It's embarrassing, it's sloppy. There's no indication that people were doing bad things on purpose, but that doesn't mean it's not embarrassing."

You can watch Comey's full testimony here.

But Jeff Danik, a former supervisory FBI agent, said he fears Comey may have put himself in legal jeopardy with Wednesday's testimony.

"I do not understand him going on out there and putting himself in position where there are so many people who can claim you did know," Danik said in an interview.

"All he is doing is putting himself in jeopardy or proving he was an incompetent director with no leadership skills," he added. "It's like a general who says there was a battle plan and all these guys got killed, but it isn't my fault, I'm just the general."

Brock agreed Comey's testimony could have consequences, especially if U.S. Attorney John Durham possesses or obtains testimony or evidence that contradicts Comey's claims.

"Comey will have to be wary of statements from other FBI officials being gathered by John Durham that document what he was told and when he was told it," he said.

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