Former FBI Director James Comey has said that his 2017 firing by US President Donald Trump was “potentially obstruction of justice,” after Trump claimed “complete and total exoneration” in the so-called Russia probe.
Comey made the remarks in an exclusive interview with NBC News when asked about his reaction to Trump telling a news anchor in May 2017 that he fired the FBI chief at least partly due to the probe of alleged collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia in the 2016 election.
“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.”
Comey was dismissed by Trump when he was leading the FBI’s investigation of alleged links between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia. Many of the president’s opponents had accused him of obstructing the probe when he fired Comey. The firing led to Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel of the Russia investigation.
Attorney General William Barr, a Trump appointee, said in a four-page summary of the report released on Sunday that Mueller’s team had concluded that no one in Trump’s campaign “conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.”
However, Mueller’s findings left unresolved the issue of whether Trump obstructed justice by undermining the investigations.
Comey said he was surprised that Mueller didn’t reach a conclusion on obstruction of justice and left it to the attorney general, who was a political appointee.
“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 the Mueller report “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.”
He 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.
Comey said it was a good thing Mueller was able to complete the investigation and conclude that “the Russia thing wasn’t a hoax” and also that the Russians had “interfered in the election in a huge way.”
Trump celebrated the summary of the Mueller report as a “complete and total exoneration” and vowed to strike back with investigations of his own against unnamed political enemies, whom he believes are guilty of “evil” and “treasonous things.”
Mueller, a former FBI director, had been examining since May 2017 whether Trump’s election campaign colluded with Moscow to try to influence the 2016 presidential election and whether the Republican president later unlawfully tried to obstruct his investigation.
US intelligence agencies claim Moscow meddled in the election with a campaign of email hacking and online propaganda aimed at sowing discord in the United States, hurting Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and helping Trump.
Both Trump and Russia have repeatedly denied the accusations. Trump has sought to discredit the investigation, calling it a “witch hunt” and accusing Mueller of conflicts of interest.