Former FBI director James Comey testified to House lawmakers this week that the counterintelligence investigation into possible conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign began by examining four Americans.
While Comey steadfastly denied the probe was focused on a political campaign and declined to identify who the four individuals are, he did note President Trump was not among them.
“I was briefed sometime at the end of July that the FBI had opened counterintelligence investigations of four individuals to see if there was a connection between those — any of those four and the Russian effort,” Comey said Friday during a closed-door questioning, according to a transcript of the interview released Saturday. “And those four Americans did not include the candidate.”
A FBI counsel at the interview said that Comey could not reveal the individuals’ identities “if they are individuals that are currently being looked at or investigated as part of the Russian investigation.”
The revelation was one of several included in the 235-page long testimony released Saturday afternoon, part of Comey’s deal to testify before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees behind closed doors for six hours Friday.
And while Comey could not comment on the special counsel’s ongoing investigation during the testimony, he forcefully defended Robert Mueller, the FBI and its agents that have come under GOP-scrutiny.
In particular, Comey went to bat for former counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok, who was fired earlier this year for sending disparaging text messages about the president while he worked on two key FBI investigations during the 2016 presidential election.
He said he saw no evidence of bias in Strzok’s work on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified materials while secretary of State.
Still, he said that if he had known about some of the now surfaced texts that Strzok had sent to Lisa Page — a former FBI lawyer he was having an affair with at the time — he would have removed the agent for even giving the appearance of bias against Trump.
But Comey appeared to dismiss claims Strzok may have acted out of bias to hurt Trump’s campaign — an allegation some Republicans have made after a text message from Strzok surfaced saying “we’ll stop” Trump during the heated presidential race.
Comey argued that since Strzok was involved in the counterintelligence probe that tied in some members of the Trump campaign, the then-agent had ample opportunity to hurt the then-Republican candidate, which he didn’t take.
“[Strzok] also was one of the handful of people in the entire world who knew we were investigating four Americans who had some connection to Mr. Trump during the summer of 2016, and he didn’t tell a soul,” Comey told the congressional investigators.
“So it’s hard to reconcile that with his being on Team Clinton. It’s hard to reconcile his not leaking that Trump associates were under investigation and his drafting of a letter to Congress on October 28th that Secretary Clinton believed hurt her chances of being elected,” he continued.
And he had harsh words for Republicans on the committees after the hearing, tweeting Friday evening that the interview “wasn’t a search for truth, but a desperate attempt to find anything that can be used to attack the institutions of justice investigating this president.”
“They came up empty today but will try again,” he added.
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