On Thursday night, former FBI Director James Comey — who was unceremoniously fired by President Trump in May 2017 and who has since made a point of publicly undermining Trump’s presidency — participated in a CNN town hall in which he was asked about the impact the role of anti-Trump former FBI agent Peter Strzok and his paramour, former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, had on the credibility of bureau and the investigation into Trump. Comey gave a “very painful” answer.
Strzok and Page have repeatedly found themselves in headlines, and official inquiries, because of their correspondence while they were both employed by the FBI in 2016 and 2017 about Trump, for whom they repeatedly displayed their hostility. Strzok headed up the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s illegal private email server and was a member of Robert Mueller’s team in the early stages of the “collusion” investigation before the special counsel was forced to remove him after his problematic anti-Trump messages came to light. Just Monday, Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sent a letter to Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson highlighting yet another text from Strzok to Page that raised more questions about the intelligence community’s role in leaks to the media concerning the Trump-Russia investigation.
In a moment from the town hall Thursday noted by Mediaite, host Anderson Cooper, after giving the audience a primer on Strzok and Page, introduced a question from an audience member about what consequences Comey believes Strzok, Page and fired Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe should have faced.
“Considering the high standards that we set for law enforcement, what do you think should have been the consequences for Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Andrew McCabe?” the audience member asked Comey.
“I think, given the standards that we have — especially we in the FBI have — there should have been, and was, severe discipline around their behavior,” said Comey. “As Anderson said, very different episodes of behavior. Everyone has opinions — about political issues, about religious issues, and sports issues. You can’t bring them to work and have them affect your work. There have to be severe consequences. FBI employees must tell the truth, always. And if they don’t, I don’t care what it’s about, it’s going to be investigated and there’s going to be severe consequences. “
After insisting that he knew nothing about Strzok and Page’s opinions on Trump and suggesting that McCabe likely didn’t either, Comey was asked by Cooper if he would admit that Strzok and Page had “damaged” the bureau’s reputation or “tarnished” the Russia investigation.
“So, do you acknowledge that this whole episode with Strzok and Page that it damaged the reputation of the FBI and that it perhaps tarnished the investigation?” asked Cooper.
“Definitely,” said Comey. “Yeah. Very painful. It was important that it be investigated, and important that there be discipline that follows it. But yeah, it made us all look bad.”
Comey then made a point of defending Strzok. “Peter Strzok is a very talented agent,” he stressed. “It’s a personal tragedy for him. But, as much as I care about individuals, I care about the institution more. It hurt the institution.” (Watch the exchange here.)
During the town hall, Comey also predicted that Trump would face legal consequences for alleged “obstruction” after his presidency. Trump took to Twitter in response to the CNN event to reiterate his very low opinion of Comey and defend his decision to fire him.
“James Comey is a disgrace to the FBI & will go down as the worst Director in its long and once proud history,” Trump wrote. “He brought the FBI down, almost all Republicans & Democrats thought he should be FIRED, but the FBI will regain greatness because of the great men & women who work there!”
As Fox News noted Thursday, Comey has come under increased scrutiny amid new revelations about his FBI’s attempts to “spy” on the Trump campaign. “A Trump administration official briefed on the matter told Fox News that Barr assembled a “team” to investigate the origins of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign,” the network reports. “Fox News also has been told the Justice Department’s inspector general (IG) was looking separately into whether Comey mishandled classified information by including a variety of sensitive matters in his private memos that include the name and code name of a confidential human source.”