Other than Special Counsel Robert Mueller, himself, there is probably no one person more familiar with the rationale for charging the president with obstruction of justice than former FBI director James Comey, whose firing directly preceded Mueller’s appointment. It was with some interest then that observers noted Comey’s tweet on Sunday, the day Attorney General William Barr released a four-page letter effectively clearing the president in the nearly two-year Russia probe. It featured the kind of photo that might appear in a calendar of motivational quotes: a lone figure (Comey) staring up staring up at a canopy of Redwood trees. “So many questions,” the tweet read.
So many questions. pic.twitter.com/66KaR52Kk8
— James Comey (@Comey) March 24, 2019
At a previously-scheduled appearance in North Carolina on Tuesday, Comey elaborated.
“I can’t quite understand what’s going on with the obstruction stuff,” Comey told the Queens University of Charlotte audience. “I have great faith in Bob Mueller, but 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.”
Comey seemed to question Barr’s decision to clear Trump after the special counsel, somewhat pointedly, said his evidence did not to exonerate the president. “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,” Comey said.
The former FBI director went on to express his hope that the Justice Department would make more details public. “I think it’s very, very important that the American people get transparency,” Comey said, insisting that he “wasn’t hoping for a particular result, except the work be done, the facts be found.” (Earlier that day, a Justice Department official said that Barr expects to makes details of the investigation public in “weeks not months.”)
Collusion or not, “The Russians really did massively interfere in the 2016 election, with the goal of helping one candidate and damaging another,” said Comey, reiterating his earlier conclusion. “That was not a hoax.”
In his role as FBI director, Comey had knowledge of those interference attempts in the summer of 2016 and through the fall, when he made the critical decision not only to reopen the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server, but to announce it publicly. At the Charlotte event, Comey said he was still wrestling with the impact of the choice, calling it “a nightmare from which I can’t awaken.”
“We spoke and prayed it would have no impact on the election,” Comey said Tuesday. “It was excruciating.”
According to a detailed analysis from 538’s Nate Silver, Comey’s decision to do so was, arguably, one of the most important factors contributing to Trump’s victory. He is scheduled to sit for an interview with NBC Nightly News’ Lester Holt Wednesday night.