SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee ripped former FBI Director James Comey for his comments about a Justice Department report released this week on the agency’s 2016 investigation of the Trump campaign.
The Utah Republican said he finds the conclusion some, including Comey, have reached that DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report exonerates the FBI “to be crazy, absolutely crazy.”
“I don’t understand that. I find it absolutely stunning that he would reach that conclusion. This is nonsense,” Lee said Wednesday during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. “There is no planet on which I think this report indicates that things were OK within the FBI in connection to this investigation.”
Horowitz found no evidence that political bias influenced the FBI’s decision to investigate allegations of collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election.
But he concluded that the FBI committed serious errors as the investigation progressed, particularly its failure to follow its own standards of accuracy and completeness when applying Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authority to surveil a former Trump campaign adviser.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the report proves there was no political conspiracy in the FBI to take down Trump. It confirms, she said, that the agency had a legitimate factual and legal basis to investigate.
“This was not a politically motivated investigation,” she said. “There is no deep state. Simply put, the FBI investigation was motivated by facts, not bias.”
In a Washington Post op-ed Monday, Comey wrote that “the FBI fulfilled its mission — protecting the American people and upholding the U.S. Constitution. Now those who attacked the FBI for two years should admit they were wrong.”
An incredulous Lee called Horowitz’s report a “scathing indictment” of the FBI and its agents involved in the investigation.
“This is the failure that Jim Comey astoundingly, stunningly, irresponsibly considers a fulfilled mission, a mission that includes, among other things, protecting the constitutional rights of the American people. I think not,” the senator said.
Either the agents used the power of the federal government to wage a political war against a presidential candidate they despised or were so incompetent that they allowed a paid political foreign operative to weaponize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act program into a spying operation on rival presidential political campaign, Lee said.
“I’m not sure which one is worse,” he said, adding both conclusions are “horrifying.”
Lee said the agents’ behavior outlined in the report is so negligent and reckless that it calls into question the legitimacy of the FISA program, a program he has long argued is ripe for abuse and puts Americans’ privacy at risk.
“Every American really should be terrified by the report,” he said.
Lee has worked with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on legislation to preserve the government’s ability to use FISA, while also protecting people’s privacy rights.
In response to Horowitz’s report, Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, filed a bill Wednesday creating new application requirements on FISA applications.
“The deceptive actions of a few high-ranking officials within the FBI and Department of Justice have eroded public trust in our federal institutions. They flattened internal guardrails, deceived the FISA court, and irreparably damaged the reputation of an innocent American,” he said in a statement.
Their actions, Stewart said, have diminished strong bipartisan Congressional support for critical national security tools.