Reacting to the outcome of the Russia investigation, James Comey said on Wednesday that he was confused by special counsel Robert Mueller’s decision not to make a judgment on whether President Donald Trump was guilty of obstruction of justice.
The former FBI director told NBC News that he believed Trump had “potentially” obstructed justice when he fired Comey in 2017.
Speaking to “Nightly News” host Lester Holt, Comey said he couldn’t “quite understand” why Mueller didn’t come to a conclusion regarding obstruction when the “entire rationale for the special counsel is to make sure the politicals aren’t making the key charging decisions.”
“So the idea that a special counsel wouldn’t reach the question and hand it to the political leadership doesn’t make sense,” Comey said.
Mueller’s report has not been made public, but according to Attorney General William Barr’s summary of it, the special counsel did not “conclude that the President committed a crime” but also did “not exonerate him” on the question of obstruction of justice.
Barr said, however, that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had concluded the evidence in the report was “not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
Comey said he suspects otherwise.
When Trump fired him in May 2017, Comey was leading the FBI’s probe into possible collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia. Two days after Comey’s firing, the president told NBC News that he’d considered “this Russia thing” in his decision to oust the FBI director. Trump has since backpedaled on those comments.
Comey said Wednesday he thought Trump’s dismissal of him was “potentially obstruction of justice, and I hope somebody is gonna look at that.”
“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 told Holt.
Mueller’s probe did not conclude that Trump’s campaign had conspired with Russia ― which Comey called “good news no matter what party you’re associated with.”
“It’ll be important to read the entire report, but, based on what I’ve seen, this is a good thing,” he added.
Still, a lack of an underlying crime doesn’t automatically absolve Trump of possible obstruction, Comey noted.
“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.