A number of House Democrats left Friday’s confidential briefing on Russian hacking outraged over the actions of FBI Director James Comey, expressing a lack of confidence in Comey’s ability to manage his agency.
Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, senior Deomcrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, condemned Comey, “I’m extremely concerned — extremely,” he said as he left the meeting in the U.S. Capitol.
California Rep. Mark Takano added “I’ll just — I’m very angry.”
“I was nonjudgmental until the last 15 minutes. I no longer have that confidence in him,” Minnesota Congressman Rim Walz, ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, said as he was leaving.
The U.S. Intelligence Community, made up of 17 separate agencies, unanimously believes that Russia hacked Democratic groups in an effort to help elect President-elect Donald Trump. Trump and his team have been increasingly isolated in attacking the IC on its conclusion, until earlier this week when Trump admitted that Russia was “probably” behind the hacking.
Comey has been under fire since a couple of weeks before the election when he announced the discovery of new emails which may be related to the Hillary Clinton email server, only to say that there was nothing relevant just later. Many Democrats, including Clinton herself, have credited Comey’s move with her Election Day loss.
On Thursday, just a day before he testified behind closed doors at the Capitol, the Inspector General announced the opening of an investigation into the Justice Department’s conduct leading up to the election, a probe that will focus on Comey’s public statements as well as FBI leaks and other relevant correspondence.
Friday’s briefing, which featured Comey and the heads of the other top intelligence agencies, was classified, restricting the ability of lawmakers to reveal details.
“I want to [have faith in Comey],” said a visibly concerned Congressman Charlie Chris (D-FL), adding “I have concerns. Stay tuned.”
“Do I have confidence in him? Not really. But I think he’s probably going to be better than the guy they’d put in,” said one Democrat, who spoke only anonymously to discuss a sensitive topic. “It’s like a rock and a hard place, but I think that’s pretty much where a lot of people are.”
Rep. Walz seemed to go a bit farther. “I’m disappointed, outraged — many of us are right now,” he said. “I’ll wait to pass full judgment, but the exchange that just happened in the final 15 minutes gives me no reason to have confidence.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who has been a frequent critic of Comey’s actions leading up to the election, spoke about the FBI without weighing in on Comey specifically. She suggested that she is waiting for the results of the Inspector General’s report to pass judgment.
“No, I haven’t lost confidence in the agency,” she told reporters. “My concern about the FBI is the timing and their not signing [the broader intelligence document on Russian hacking]. And that was the judgment of Director Comey, unless it goes deeper, and that’s what the investigation will find out,” she added. “Let’s find out how they thought this was a good idea to make the judgments they did, and understanding — weighing full well — that the Russians were actively engaged in disrupting our election.”