James Comey, the former director of the FBI who has become a prime nemesis of Donald Trump, admitted on Sunday to being responsible for “real sloppiness” over the handling of surveillance of a Trump campaign adviser.
He also fiercely defended himself and the bureau against any suggestion of political bias, prompting a new threat, of “years in jail”, from Trump.
Comey, who was fired by Trump as America’s top law enforcement official in May 2017, came under intense questioning on Fox News Sunday, sparring with anchor Chris Wallace over the findings of the inspector general’s report into the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Pointing out that the inspector general was appointed by Barack Obama, Trump claimed: “There was tremendous bias and guilt exposed, so obvious, but Horowitz couldn’t get himself to say it. Big credibility loss.”
The president followed up by attacking Comey himself, in loose and intemperate terms. “So now Comey’s admitting he was wrong,” he tweeted. “Wow, but he’s only doing so because he got caught red handed. He was actually caught a long time ago. So what are the consequences for his unlawful conduct. Could it be years in jail? Where are the apologies to me and others, Jim?”
Even before Trump’s intemperate intervention, Comey did not get an easy ride. Under persistent questioning by Wallace, he was forced to admit he presided over serious mistakes in the course of applying for permission to place former Trump adviser Carter Page under surveillance.
The IG report gives details of 17 “significant errors and omissions” in the way four applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (Fisa) court were made from October 2016, the first two on Comey’s watch.
“I was overconfident in the procedures that the FBI had built over 20 years. I thought they were robust enough. It’s incredibly hard to get a Fisa and he was right there was real sloppiness. It was not acceptable.”
Comey’s admittance of fallibility, albeit over procedural issues rather than the overriding accusation of bias, is likely to give Trump and his enablers in the Republican party the fuel they need to continue to attack the FBI as the heart of the supposed “deep state”. William Barr, the US attorney general, has already launched his own investigation of the Russia investigation.