Former FBI Director James Comey told NBC News on Wednesday that his 2017 firing by President Donald Trump was « potentially obstruction of justice. »
In an exclusive interview on « Nightly News, » Lester Holt asked Comey about his reaction to Trump telling the news anchor in May 2017 that he fired the FBI chief at least partly because of the Russia investigation.
« I thought that’s potentially obstruction of justice and I hope somebody is gonna look at that, » Comey said. « Again the president appears to be saying, I don’t know what’s in his head — which is why I can’t reach the conclusion, what he appears to be saying is, I got rid of this guy to shut down an investigation that threatened me. »
At the time he was dismissed, Comey was leading the FBI’s investigation of alleged links between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia. Comey’s firing led to Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel of the Russia investigation.
The White House claimed at the time of Comey’s firing that it was initiated by the DOJ and as result of his handling of the Hillary Clinton investigation. Two days after Comey’s ouster, though, Trump appeared in an interview on NBC News and told Holt he was considering « this Russia thing » when he axed the FBI chief.
On Sunday, Attorney General William Barr disclosed in a letter to Congress that the special counsel didn’t make a determination whether the president criminally obstructed justice. The attorney general quoted Mueller’s report, which stated that « while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him. »
Comey said he was surprised that Mueller didn’t come to a conclusion on obstruction of justice and left it to the attorney general. He said one of the purposes of a special counsel is to make the tough call and not pass it to political appointees such as the attorney general.
« So the idea that a special counsel wouldn’t reach the question and hand it to the political leadership doesn’t make sense, » he said.
Comey was asked by Holt if he sees the Mueller report as a rebuke of his leadership at the FBI.
« No, I actually see it the other way, » Comey said. « It establishes to all people I hope, no matter where they are in the spectrum, that the FBI is not corrupt, not a nest of vipers and spies, but an honest group of people trying to find out what is true. »
The fired FBI director also said the probe « had to happen. »
« It would have been irresponsible not to investigate. And we don’t investigate, despite what the partisans say, to find a particular result. We investigate to find out what’s true. And best I can tell, it looks like Bob Mueller was allowed to do that — and that’s a great thing, » Comey said.
Also, Comey said he didn’t know what the special counsel report would reveal when the investigation ended since he was axed while the probe was ongoing.
But Comey said it was a good thing Mueller was able to finish the probe and conclude that « the Russia thing wasn’t a hoax » and also that the Russians had « interfered in the election in a huge way. And another piece of good news: the evidence didn’t establish that any Americans conspired as part of that effort. »