Former FBI chief James B. Comey said in a speech Tuesday evening that he is confused by special counsel Robert Mueller’s reasoning on not charging President Trump with obstruction of justice.
Mr. Comey told his audience that while he had “great faith” in Mr. Mueller, the special counsel essentially punted on the matter, neither recommending that Mr. Trump be charged nor exonerating him.
“The part that’s confusing is, I can’t quite understand what’s going on with the obstruction stuff,” Mr. Comey told his audience at the Belk Theatre in Charlotte, North Carolina, according to an NBC News report.
Instead, Mr. Mueller’s nonrecommendation on obstruction, unlike his decision to exonerate Mr. Trump and his campaign of any collusion with Russians trying to affect the 2016 presidential election, put the decision in the hands of Attorney General William P. Barr, a political appointee who serves at the president’s pleasure.
“I just can’t tell from the letter why didn’t he decide these questions when the entire rationale for a special counsel is to make sure the politicals aren’t making the key charging decisions,” said the FBI ex-chief who started to oversee the Russia probe until Mr. Trump fired him in May 2017.
Mr. Comey also criticized Mr. Barr’s rationale for not charging the president on obstruction — essentially that while Mr. Trump did some things that might be considered obstruction in other contexts, there was no obstruction of justice here because there was no collusion to investigate.
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“The notion that obstruction cases are somehow undermined by the absence of proof of an underlying crime, that is not my experience in 40 years of doing this nor is it the Department of Justice’s tradition. Obstruction crimes matter without regard to what you prove about the underlying crime,” he said.
Mr. Comey did a straddling job himself though, on the matter of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account and server to handle classified information, the investigation of which he oversaw as FBI director.
In his final report, he declined to recommend charges be brought — a decision that always would have been made by then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch anyway. But he vigorously criticized Mrs. Clinton’s conduct, as reckless and said part of the reason she didn’t commit a crime was that she was too ignorant of the technology to know what she was doing.
On Sunday, Mr. Barr issued a four-page letter summarizing the report that Mr. Mueller had sent to him two days previous, wrapping up his investigation. But Mr. Barr did not publicly release the actual report, and Mr. Comey said in Tuesday’s speech that he had only read Mr. Barr’s letter.
In other parts of his hourlong speech, Mr. Comey attacked Mr. Trump on numerous grounds — as a man who isn’t a leader and a “forest fire” who is a threat to the nation’s values and political health.
In a speech on leadership, he specifically cited his first private dinner with Mr. Trump, in which the newly elected president asked him for loyalty.
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“This person doesn’t know anything about leadership,” Mr. Comey said he concluded immediately. “A good leader doesn’t ask for loyalty.”
According to the Charlotte Observer, Mr. Comey also said Mr. Trump “is doing tremendous damage to core American values. I care about the truth, and I care about the rule of law. … This forest fire is damaging those things.”
Mr. Comey contrasted some private moments he had had with Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, drawing laughs with anecdotes about Mr. Obama calling him “you poor bastard” when he learned of the salacious and now-discredited Steele dossier and cutting his head and trying to stop the blood from pouring down his face.
He called those men leaders because, among other things, they had a sense of humor and could laugh at themselves.
“I’ve actually never seen President Trump laugh or make a joke. I’m not being facetious,” he said.
However, he confidently predicted Mr. Trump’s prompt demise, analogizing him with Sen. Joe McCarthy and his anti-Communist witch hunts of the 1950s.
“Demagogue fevers break very quickly,” he said. McCarthy “disappeared from the national stage, and then there was a lot of explaining to do. I expect that history to repeat itself.”