Columns

White House: Comey Not 'Intentionally Trying to Influence' Election

WASHINGTON — The White House said today “it’s a good thing” that FBI Director James Comey is “a man of integrity and character” to take on “tough questions” about Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Press secretary Josh Earnest emphasized at the daily briefing that “the White House is going to be scrupulous about avoiding even the appearance of political interference in prosecutorial or investigative decisions.”

“And that is a posture that I won’t change and it is a posture that speaks to the kind of institutional responsibilities that are investigated — that are vested here in the White House, which is preserving the independence and integrity of independent investigations conducted by the Department of Justice,” he said.

Earnest said he didn’t “have any independent knowledge of how those decisions were made” or what factors were considered to release information about a new path of investigation since “all the way back to July when Director Comey announced the results of the investigation and spoke at length to the public about his decision not to prosecute Secretary Clinton.”

“Included in that news conference were some rather harsh condemnations of the way that Secretary Clinton handled that situation,” he noted. “Director Comey also testified before Congress at some length, on camera, under oath, and — about the investigation, and some of that testimony provided fodder to Secretary Clinton’s critics.”

The press secretary said he would “neither defend nor criticize what Director Comey has decided to communicate to the public about this investigation.”

“What I will say is that the Department of Justice in our democracy is given expansive authority to conduct investigations.”

Earnest added it’s “important in the mind of the president that those authorities are tempered by an adherence to longstanding tradition and practice and norms that limit public discussion of facts that are collected in the context of those investigations.”

“And there are a variety of good reasons for that. And the president believes that it’s important for those norms and traditions and guidelines to be followed.”

Pressed on whether Comey followed those norms, Earnest would only say “there are a set of significant institutional responsibilities that officials at the Department of Justice and the FBI must fulfill.”

“The good news is the president believes that Director Comey is a man of integrity, he’s a man of principle and he’s a man of good character. That presumably is the reason that President Bush chose him to serve in a senior position at the Bush administration’s Department of Justice,” he added. “These same character traits are what led a strong majority of Democratic and Republican senators to confirm him to this job. These are the traits that led the president to select him to be the director of the FBI.”

Earnest noted that “the president’s assessment of his integrity and his character has not changed” since Friday’s notification to Congress that previously unseen emails were being assessed.

“The president doesn’t believe that Director Comey is intentionally trying to influence the outcome of an election,” he said. “The president doesn’t believe that he’s secretly strategizing to benefit one candidate or one political party. He’s in a tough spot, and he’s the one who will be in a position to defend his actions in the face of significant criticism from a variety of legal experts, including individuals who served in senior Department of Justice positions in administrations that were led by presidents in both parties.”