Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee are not happy that the intelligence community blacked out a crucial portion of fired FBI director James Comey’s words in their recently released report on Russia interference in the 2016 election. Lawmakers hope the issue gets resolved soon because Comey has been denying in interview after interview what he purportedly said in the redacted portion of the transcript.
The quotes in question allegedly concern fired national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was interviewed by two FBI agents at the White House in January of 2017. Republicans say that when Comey went to Capitol Hill that March to brief lawmakers on the Russia investigation, he told them that the agents who questioned Flynn did not believe he had lied and that any inaccuracies were unintentional.
Lawmakers reportedly left the briefing with “the impression that Flynn would not be charged with lying to the FBI,” according to the Washington Examiner’s Byron York. Former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe allegedly told lawmakers the same thing — that Flynn didn’t lie — which is why so many people were shocked in November of 2017, when Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
For whatever reason, the intel community redacted both McCabe’s and Comey’s quotes regarding Flynn in the HPSCI’s final Russia report.
Comey, meanwhile, has been on his publicity tour to promote his book, A Higher Loyalty, and has been denying that he told the House Intelligence Committee what Republican sources say he said.
Most recently, “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd pressed Comey on the question Sunday morning on NBC.
“In the Washington Examiner, they report that, according to sources familiar with meetings that you had, that you told lawmakers when you were still director of the FBI that FBI agents who interviewed Flynn did not believe that Flynn had lied to them or that any inaccuracies in his answers were intentional,” Todd said to Comey. “If that’s the case, what did he plead guilty to?”
“Yes, an example of how you can’t believe everything you read in the media,” Comey said.
“This is not true?” Todd asked.
“Not true,” said Comey. “And I don’t know what people heard me say, if they’re reporting it accurately, what they heard me say, they misunderstood. But that’s not accurate.”
Comey said the same thing in an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier last week.
“Did you tell lawmakers that FBI agents didn’t believe former national security adviser Michael Flynn was lying intentionally to investigators?” asked Baier.
“No,” said Comey.
“You did not—” said Baier.
“And I saw that in the media,” Comey said. “I don’t know what — maybe someone misunderstood something I said. I didn’t believe that and didn’t say that.”
And in Comey’s first interview two weeks ago, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos said, “There’s been some reporting that at one point you told the Congress that the agents who interviewed Mike Flynn didn’t believe that he had lied.”
“Yeah, I saw that,” said Comey. “And that — I don’t know where that’s coming from. That — unless I’m — I said something that people misunderstood, I don’t remember even intending to say that. So my recollection is I never said that to anybody.”
Comey’s recollection is not going to square with the transcript, Republicans say.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that the transcript of Comey’s briefing shows him telling lawmakers that the FBI agents thought Flynn was telling the truth.
“Director Comey’s recollection is flawed,” Gowdy said. “If he does not remember telling Congress that his agents told him they didn’t think Flynn was lying, then he needs to get his lawyers to go back and look at the transcript. We did not mishear. Maybe he misspoke, but that’s in the transcript.”
HPSCI Chairman Devin Nunes complained about the redactions after the report was issued and vowed to fight for an unredacted version: “We object to the excessive and unjustified number of redactions, many of which do not relate to classified information,” Nunes said in a statement . “The committee will convey our objections to the appropriate agencies and looks forward to publishing a less redacted version in the near future.”
House Intel spokesman Jack Langer pointed out that the intelligence community quickly removed redactions from the House Intel Democrats’ counter-report.
“The Democrats got all the redactions on their minority views lifted within a day,” Langer said Sunday evening, “while we’re still struggling to get our concerns addressed.”
The conflict is a stark one, and leads one to wonder — what was it about McCabe and Comey’s testimony that the intel community considered classified, anyway?