Comey And Allies Respond To Inspector General Report
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A new inspector general report concludes that former FBI Director James Comey mishandled the probe into Hillary Clinton's emails. President Trump responded during an impromptu interview with Fox News on the White House grounds this morning.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The top people were horrible. You look at what happened. They were plotting against my election.
MARTIN: To clarify, the report found no evidence that Comey was motivated by political bias. In an op-ed for The New York Times, Comey said he doesn't agree with all the conclusions of the IG report but he respects the process. Earlier, we spoke with Benjamin Wittes. He is the editor-in-chief of the Lawfare blog and a friend of former FBI Director James Comey.
Ben, thanks for being here.
BEN WITTES: Good to be here.
MARTIN: Do you agree with the inspector general's conclusion that James Comey mishandled the investigation?
WITTES: Look. I think anytime you manage an investigation of this complexity on a matter of this kind of political sensitivity, you're going to make judgments that other people are going to disagree with. And when Jim did the things that he did, I think he knew that a lot of people would disagree with him. And one of them is the inspector general. I think there's more to be said for Jim's conduct of it than the inspector general does. But I'm not at all surprised that the inspector general disagrees with him about it.
MARTIN: Can you remind us - I mean, one of the things that he is cited for doing is for essentially boxing out the attorney general by calling that press conference where he stood up and said that he was not going to pursue charges in the Clinton investigation. Can you remind us his justification for doing that?
WITTES: Right. So his concern, at that point, was that the attorney general was a sort of compromised figure in closing out the investigation for a number of different reasons, including that, you know, Bill Clinton had walked onto her plane. And he was concerned that the investigation be closed without the taint of somebody who would not be able to do it in a fashion that people wouldn't question as, you know, too connected to the Clinton campaign.
MARTIN: But by boxing her out, he violated the same rules and norms of the FBI that he has claimed to want to protect.
WITTES: So he definitely violated a long-standing Justice Department practice. And, you know, one of the problems was not merely that Jim arrogated certain power to himself. One of the problems is that the people who had these powers - in fact, Loretta Lynch and Sally Yates - really did nothing to stop him from doing it.
So you had - and this is, I think, one of the really interesting components of the IG report. You had a kind of perfect storm here in which one person has a strong instinct to take responsibility for everything, and the people from whom he's taking responsibility don't actually act to preserve it and don't assert their own responsibility. And under those circumstances, I do think the outcome was really unfortunate.
MARTIN: Well, let me ask you. You spoke with NPR's All Things Considered back in May of last year. And you said that firing Director Comey was a very, quote, "dangerous and reckless thing to do." In light of the IG's conclusion, do you still think that's the case?
WITTES: Absolutely. You know, I think there are certainly legitimate grounds to criticize the FBI institutionally and Jim Comey personally in this larger affair. The idea that that has anything to do with why the president removed him is preposterous. And the reason the president removed him is up a larger corrupt set of interactions with law enforcement that are designed to weaponize it against his enemies and protect his friends and himself.
MARTIN: Benjamin Wittes, editor-in-chief of the Lawfare blog, friend of former FBI Director James Comey.
Thank you so much.
WITTES: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.