Former FBI Director James Comey claimed “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” in response to dozens of questions concerning key details in the Russia probe, according to a lengthy transcript released Saturday of his closed-door interview with congressional lawmakers.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., published the 235-page transcript as a part of an agreement with Comey.
The former bureau boss frustrated GOP lawmakers during Friday’s session, in large part because his lawyers urged him not to answer numerous questions. Comey is expected to return later in the month for another round, though blasted Republicans on his way out for what he called a “desperate attempt to find anything that can be used to attack the institutions of justice investigating this president.”
But while Comey insisted in the interview that “we never investigated the Trump campaign for political purposes,” the transcript shows he claimed ignorance or memory lapses in response to questions concerning key details and events in the Russia investigation, which some GOP lawmakers continue to claim was improperly conducted.
The transcript reveals lawmakers’ frustration with his lack of specifics.
Asked if he recalled who drafted the FBI’s “initiation document” for the July 2016 Russia investigation, Comey said, “I do not.” He again claimed not to know when asked about the involvement in that initiation of Peter Strzok, whose anti-Trump texts later got him removed from the special counsel’s probe.
When asked if the FBI had any evidence that anyone in the Trump campaign conspired to hack the DNC server, Comey gave a lengthy answer referring to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as to why he couldn’t answer.
“Did we have evidence in July of (2016) that anyone in the Trump campaign conspired to hack the DNC server?” Comey asked rhetorically. “I don't think that the FBI and special counsel want me answering questions that may relate to their investigation of Russian interference during 2016. And I worry that that would cross that line.”
“I don't think that the FBI and special counsel want me answering questions that may relate to their investigation of Russian interference during 2016. And I worry that that would cross that line,”
When pressed further by Gowdy about what “factual predicate” the bureau had to launch a counterintelligence investigation, Comey again claimed that answering that question would be a “slope” that would ask him to reveal what the FBI “did or didn’t know about Russia activity” as it related to the 2016 election.
“You can't tell us, or you won't tell us?” Gowdy asks.
“Probably a combination of both ... To the extent I recall facts developed during our investigation of Russian interference and the potential connection of Americans, I think that's a question that the FBI doesn't want me answering. So it's both a can't and a won't,” Comey replied.
The former FBI director went on to say that anything related to Mueller’s investigation, to his understanding, would be “off limits" as it is an ongoing investigation.
Comey was also fuzzy on the eventual Democratic funding of the research that went into the controversial and unverified anti-Trump dossier.
Asked when he learned that the firm behind the dossier, Fusion GPS, was hired by law firm Perkins Coie – and when he learned that law firm was hired by the Democratic National Committee – Comey said “I never learned that” while director.
Comey also claimed not to know key details surrounding the involvement of Christopher Steele, the former British spy who authored the dossier.
Asked when Steele was “terminated” as an FBI source, Comey said he didn’t know.
Asked about Steele’s subsequent contact with Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, Comey said, “I don’t know anything about that.”
The Comey appearance comes as Republicans try to probe deeper into the FBI’s handling of both the Russia case and Hillary Clinton email investigation, before Democrats take control of the House in January and likely shut down these lines of inquiry.
Comey was asked numerous questions as well about the handling of the Clinton case, acknowledging at times that certain aspects of it were “unusual” while defending other actions.
Comey initially challenged the subpoena to appear before the committees and instead pressed for a public hearing out of concern his comments would be selectively leaked and taken out of context. He eventually agreed to appear, with an arrangement for the transcript to be made public.
Fox News’ Bill Mears, Jake Gibson, and Chad Pergram contributed to this report.