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Live Coverage of FBI Director Comey Before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 3, 2017 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: And I think there are other things involved in that election, I'll grant that.

[11:00:04] But there is no question that that had a great effect.

Historians can debate what kind of an effect it was. But you -- you did do it. The -- in October, the FBI was investigating the Trump campaign's connection to Russia. You sent a letter informing the Senate and House (inaudible) reviewing additional e-mails. It could be relevant to this but both investigations are open but you've have still only commented on one.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: I commented as I explained earlier, on October 28 in a letter that I sent to the chair and Rankings of the oversight committees that we were taking additional steps in the Clinton e-mail investigation because I had testified under oath repeatedly that we were done that we were finished there.

With respect to the Russian investigation, we treated it like we did with the Clinton investigation. We didn't say a word about it until months into it and then the only thing we've confirmed so far about this is the same thing with the Clinton investigation. That we are investigating. And I would expect, we're not going to say another peep about it until we're done. And I don't know what will be said when we're done, but that's the way we handled the Clinton investigation as well.

LEAHY: Let me ask you this. During your investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails, a number of surrogates like Rudy Giuliani claim to have a pipeline to the FBI. He boasted that, and I quote, numerous agents talk to him all the time. (Inaudible) regarding the investigation. He even said that he had -- insinuated he had advanced warning about the e-mails described in your October letter. Former FBI agent Jim Kallstrom made similar claims.

Now either they're lying or there's a serious problem within the Bureau. Anybody in the FBI during the this 2016 campaign have contact with Rudy Giuliani about -- about the Clinton investigation?

COMEY: I don't know yet. But if I find out that people were leaking information about our investigations, whether it's to reporters or to private parties, there will be severe consequences.

LEAHY: Did you know of anything from Jim Kallstrom?

COMEY: Same answer. I don't know yet.

LEAHY: Do you know any about -- from other former agents?

COMEY: I don't know yet. But it's a matter that I'm very very interested in.

LEAHY: But you are looking into it?

COMEY: Correct.

LEAHY: And once you've found that answer, will you provide it to us?

COMEY: I'll provide it to the committee in some form. I don't whether I would say publicly, but I'd find some way to let you know.

LEAHY: OK. Now there are reports a number of the senior officials in the Trump campaign administration are connected to the Russian investigation. In fact the Attorney General was forced to recuse himself.

Now many members of this committee have urged the deputy attorney general and he has that authority to appoint a special counsel to protect the independence of the investigation. I recall I was here in December 2003, shortly after your confirmed as deputy attorney general then Attorney General Ashcroft recused himself from the investigation into the Valerie Plame leak. You immediately appointed special counsel. I believe you appointed Patrick Fitzgerald. What lead you to that decision?

COMEY: In that particular investigation, my judgment was that it -- that the appearance of fairness and independence required that it be removed from the political chain of command within the Department of Justice, because as you recall, it seems like a lifetime ago. But that also involved the conduct of people who were senior level people in the White House and my judgment was that even I as an independent minded person, was a political appointee and so I ought to give it to a career person like Pat Fitzgerald. LEAHY: What about the situation now? We have a deputy attorney general, and I voted for his confirmation, but should he be not the one to be investigating campaign contacts, when his boss the attorney general was a central figure in that campaign?

COMEY: That's a judgment he'll have to make. He is -- as I hoped I was, as deputy attorney general a very independent minded, career- oriented person, but it'd be premature for me to comment on that.

LEAHY: The past week President Trump again said the hacking on the DNC and other efforts who influenced the election could've been China, could've been a lot of different groups. Is that contrary to what the intelligence community has said?

COMEY: The intelligence community with high confidence concluded it was Russia. In many circumstances, it's hard to do attribution of a hack, but sometimes the intelligence is there. [11:05:00] We have high confidence that the North Koreans hacked Sony, we have high confidence that the Russians did the hacking of the DNC and the other organizations.

LEAHY: I have a lot of other questions which I'll submit, but I -- before it sounds totally negative, I want to praise the response of the FBI in South Burlington, Vermont. We had anonymous e-mails coming in, threatening serious action against students at a high school, escalating cyber threats, including detailed death threats, multiple lockdowns and all.

The FBI worked closely to the Champlain College's Leahy Center for Digital Investigation, which you visited a couple years ago. It was a textbook example of collaboration between state, local and federal authorities. And I want to thank all those, it turned out to be a very disturbed young man who was doing it. But you know when you turn on the TV and see what happens in different parts of the country how worried we were in Vermont. I just want to thank your FBI agents for their help.

COMEY: Yes. Thank you for that, Senator.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Senator Graham would be next, so we'll go to Senator Cornyn.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Thank you.

Morning, Director Comey. I'm disappointed to see that former secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in the news yesterday, essentially blaming you and blaming everything other than herself for her loss on November the 8th. I find it ironic because you're not the one who made the decision to handle classified information on a private e-mail server.

You're not the one who decided to have a private meeting with Secretary Clinton's husband in the middle of the Justice Department's ongoing investigation into Secretary Clinton's server. I use the word investigation here because according to a recent piece in the New York Times, you were forbidden from using the word investigation and were instead told to refer to the investigation, which it was, as a matter.

Of course, it was the former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who up until that meeting with President Clinton was the person responsible for making the decision whether to convene a grand jury, involving the allegations against Secretary Clinton. And it was former Attorney General Loretta Lynch who apparently forbade you from using the word investigation. Indeed, if the New York Times story is true, a Democratic operative expressed confidence that the former Attorney General would keep that investigation from going very far.

I think you were given an impossible choice to make and you did the best you could, in light of the situation that you were presented with. And it -- it strikes me as somewhat sad for people here and elsewhere to condemn you for notifying Congress, shortly before the election that you'd uncovered even more e-mails related investigation, including classified e-mails. Again, because Secretary Clinton had made the decision to use a private e-mail server.

And I think it's important to remind folks that you were not the one who decided to do business this way, keep State Department e-mails on a computer of someone suspected of child pornography. Again, I believe you were placed in an incredibly difficult position and you could. You may recall I was one of those who felt like given the nature of the investigation and the concerns that a special counsel should have been appointed to conduct investigation -- but of course Attorney General Lynch and the Obama administration opposed that effort.

So I just wanted to express to you my my disappointment that this continued seeking of a reason -- any reason other than the flawed campaign and the candidate herself -- for Secretary Clinton losing the presidential election.

If I can turn to a couple of other substantive items here. You mentioned 702 of FISA and the reauthorization. And I believe you've referred to this as the crown jewels of the FBI and of counterterrorism investigations, could you explain why this provides such a unique tool and why you regard it as literally the crown jewels of the -- of the FBI?

COMEY: Thank you, Senator. The -- every time I talk about this publicly I wince a little bit because I don't want bad people around the world to focus on this too much. But really bad people around the world because of the genius of American innovation use our products and infrastructure for their e-mails, for their communications.

And what 702 allows us to do is quickly target terrorists, weapons of mass destruction, proliferators, spies, cyber hackers, non- Americans who are using our infrastructure to communicate; to target them quickly and collect information on them.

[11:10:08] And it is vital to all parts of the intelligence community because of its agility, its speed and its effectiveness.

And again, in an open setting we can't explain what you already know from classified briefings about what a difference this makes. But again, because America is the mother of all this innovation, they use a lot of our equipment, a lot of our networks to communicate with each other. If we were ever required to establish the normal warrant process for these non-Americans who aren't in our country just because the photons they're using to plan attacks cross our country's lands we'd be tying ourselves in knots for reasons that make no sense at all and the courts have said are unnecessary under the Fourth Amendment.

So this is a tool -- we talked a lot last year about the telephony metadata database, I think that's a useful tool. It does not compare in importance to 702. We can't lose 702.

CORNYN: Well, I agree and it -- it is a little bit difficult to talk about things that do involve classified matters in public. But I think the public needs to know that there are multiple oversight layers, including the FISA Court, congressional oversight, internal oversight within the FBI and intelligence community, that protects Americans from -- under -- their -- their privacy rights while targeting terrorists and people who are trying to kill us.

I want to talk a minute about the electronic communication transactional records, something and I have discussed before as well. The FBI can use national security letters, I believe, to get financial information and telephone numbers now in the conduct of a terrorist investigation. But because of a typo in the law, the FBI has not been allowed access to Internet metadata in national security cases, to the extent that -- that is necessary.

Can you talk to us about the importance of that particular fix -- the electronic communications transactional records fix or active ECTA (ph) fix?

COMEY: Yes, thank you so much, Senator. This seems like a boring deal. This makes a big impact on our work and here's why; in our counterterrorism cases and our counterintelligence cases, we can issue with all kinds of -- of layers of approval in the FBI, a national security letter to find out the subscriber to a particular telephone number and to find out what numbers that telephone number was in contact with. Not the content of those communications, but just the connection.

Again, because of what I believe is a typo in the law and if I'm wrong congress will tell me that they intended this, the companies that provide the same services but on the Internet resist and say we don't have the statutory authority to serve in an NSL necessary letter to find out the subscriber to particular e-mail handle or what addresses were in contact with what addresses.

Although we could do the same with telephone communications. I don't think Congress intended that distinction. But what it does to us is in our most important investigations, it requires us if we want to find out the subscriber to a particular e-mail handle to go and get an order from a federal judge in Washington as part of the FISA court, an incredibly long and difficult process. And I'm worried about that slowing us down.

But I'm also worried about it becoming a disincentive for our investigators to do it at all because if you're working a case in San Antonio or in Seattle, you're moving very -- very quickly. And if I have to go to get subscriber information for heaven sakes on an e-mail address to a federal court in Washington.

I'm probably going to try and find some other way around it. If that's what Congress wants, sure we'll follow law. I don't think that was ever intended. And so I would hope the Congress will fix what I believe is a typo.

CORNYN: Thank you Mr. Director. I have other questions for the record. Thank you.

GRASSLEY: Are going over to vote now. And I'd also like to have both Democrat and Republicans notifying me if they want a second round, so I can get an inventory of that.

Senator Klobuchar. SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: Thank you.

Welcome back Director Comey. As you are well aware Russia is actively working to undermine our democracy and hurt American businesses at the same time. Now more than ever Americans are looking to Congress for leadership and we must be a united front. And I've appreciated some of the members of this committee on the Republican side who have spoken out about this. We must be united as we seek information from the administration.

Last month during a hearing at the House Intelligence Committee, you confirmed that the FBI is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including any links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

[11:15:00] I know that you cannot discuss that ongoing investigation, but just one question to clarify.

Will you commit to ensuring that the relevant congressional committees receive a full and timely briefing on that investigations findings?

COMEY: In general, I can Senator. I need Department of Justice approval to brief on particular people that we're investigating. We've briefed the Chairs and the Rankings, including of this committee on who we have cases open on and exactly what we're doing and how we're using various sources of information. I don't know whether the department will approve that for the entire intelligence committees, but I'll lean as far forward as I can.

KLOBUCHAR: And then because and -- Attorney General Sessions is recused from that and now Rod Rosenstein is approved, you go to him then to get that approval?

COMEY: Yes, I've already briefed him. I think his first day in office I briefed him on where we are, and so he would be the person to make that decision.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. In your testimony, you note that the Justice Department brought charges against Russian spies and criminal hackers in connection with the 2014 Yahoo cyber attack in February. An example of a cyber attack on our economy.

In December 2016, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security released a 13 page report providing technical details about how federal investigators linked Russia to the hacks against U.S. political organizations.

Does Russia use the same military and civilian tools they've used to hack our political organizations in order to do things like hack into U.S. companies, steal identities and so the credit card information of Americans on the black market. And how is the FBI working to fight against hackers supported by foreign governments like Russia?

COMEY: The answer is yes, both their government organizations, and then they have a relationship that's often difficult to define with criminals and that the Yahoo hack's actually an example of that. You had some of the Russia's greatest criminal hackers and intelligence agency hackers working together.

So the answer is yes. And what we're doing is trying to see if we can impose costs on that behavior in a lot of different ways, but including one I mentioned in my opening which is locking up people. If we can get them outside of Russia, Russia's not too great about cooperating with us when there are criminals inside their borders, but all of then like to travel. And so if they travel grabbing them and -- and locking and putting handcuffs on them to send a message that that's not a freebie.

KLOBUCHAR: In your testimony, you also discussed a threat that transnational organized crime poses to our safety and our security. Russia has vast criminal networks that the Kremlin uses to sew instability across the world. I heard these concerns firsthand when Senator Graham and McCain and I were in the Baltics, Ukraine and Georgia.

There have been recent concerns that organized criminals, including Russians, are using the luxury real estate market to launder money. The Treasury Department has noted a significant rise in the use of shell companies in real estate transactions, because foreign buyers use them as a way to hide their identity and find a safe haven for their money in the U.S. In fact, nearly half of all homes in the U.S. worth at least $5 million are purchased using shell companies.

Does the anonymity associated with the use of shell companies to buy real estate hurt the FBI's ability to trace the flow of illicit money and fight organized crime? And do you support efforts by the Treasury Department to use its existing authority to require more transparency in these transactions?

COMEY: Yes and yes.

KLOBUCHAR: OK very good, because I think this is a huge problem. When you hear that over $5 million of homes, half of them purchased by shell companies, that is a major problem.

In March, this committee Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism held its first hearing. I thank Senator Graham and Senator Whitehouse for that. I raised the issue of protecting our election infrastructure with former Bush Department of Justice Official Ken Wainstein. And he agreed that this is a very important issue.

As a ranking -- as the ranking member of the Rules Committee, I'm particularly concerned about ensuring our elections are safe from foreign interference. I recently led a group of 26 senators in calling for full account of the Election Assistance Commission's efforts to address Russian cyber security threats in the 2016 election. I'm also working on legislation in this area.

Can you discuss how the FBI has coordinated with the Election Assistance Commission, Department of Homeland Security, and state and local election officials to help protect the integrity of our election process?

COMEY: Thank you, Senator. In short, what we've done with DHS is share the tools, tactics and techniques we see hackers, especially from the 2016 election season, using to attack voter registration databases and -- and try and engage in other hacks. And we've pushed that out to all the states and to the Election Assistance Commission so they can harden their networks. That's one of the most important things we can do is equip them with the information to make their systems tighter.

[11:20:05] KLOBUCHAR: Very good because as you know, we have different equipment all over this country. There is some advantage to that I think. I think it's good when we have paper ballot backups, of course but we have to be prepared for this and this certainly isn't about one political party or one candidate.

Last -- the last time you came before the committee in December, 2015, just one week after the San Bernardino attacks since then, as was noted by the chair. We've seen other attacks in our country. We had a -- a -- a tragedy in a shopping mall in Saint Cloud, Minnesota; 10 wounded at a shopping mall. Thankfully a brave off-duty cop was there. He was able to stop further damage from being done. And I would also like to thank you and the FBI for your investigation, having talked to the chief up there, Senator Franken and I were briefed by him, as well as Congressman Emmer, right after this attack.

The local police department is a midsize department and they had to do a lot with working with the community; they have a significant Somali community there, that's a big part of their community that they're proud to have there. So they're working with them, they're working with the community, they're helping; but the FBI really stood in and did the investigation.

And I guess I want to thank you for that and just -- and with one question, it's been reported that ISIS has encouraged lone wolf attacks like what we saw in Orlando, it's murkier the facts in Saint Cloud. What challenges do these type of attacks present for law enforcement and what is the FBI doing to prevent these kinds of tragedies?

COMEY: The -- thank you, senator. The central challenge is not just finding needles in a nationwide haystack but trying to figure out which pieces of hay might become a needle.

And that is which of the troubled young people -- or sometimes it's older people -- are consuming poisonous propaganda -- some ISIS, some Anwar al-Awlaki, some other sources -- and are moving towards thinking an act of violence like a stabbing at a shopping mall is some way to achieve meaning in their lives. And a huge part of it is building relationships with the communities you mentioned because those folks do not want anyone committing violence -- committing violence in the name of their faith.

And so they have the same incentives we do and making sure they see us that way and we see them that way is at the heart of our response because we're not going to see some troubled kid going sideways and thinking he should stab people anywhere near as easily as the people around that kid are going to see it. And so getting in a position where they feel comfortable telling us or telling local law enforcement is at the heart of our ability to find those needles, evaluate those pieces of hay and stop this.

KLOBUCHAR: Appreciate it, thank you.

GRASSLEY: Senator Graham.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Thank you, Director Comey, could you pass on to your agents and all support personnel how much we appreciate their efforts to defend the country. We're going to set a record for questions asked and answered in six minutes and 54 seconds if I can.

Do you agree with me if sequestration goes back into affect next year it would be devastating to the FBI?

COMEY: Yes.

GRAHAM: And it's due to do so unless Congress changes it.

COMEY: That's -- I've been told that.

GRAHAM: OK, do you agree with me that ISIL loses the caliphate these people will go out throughout the world and become terrorist agents and the threat of terrorism to the homeland is going to get greater over time, not smaller.

COMEY: Yes, it will diminish in that -- that their power to put out there media to the troubled people in the country will decrease but the -- the hardened killers flowing out of the caliphate will be a big problem.

GRAHAM: So from a funding point of view, terrorism is not going to get better, it's probably going to get worse.

COMEY: I think that's fair to say.

GRAHAM: Did you ever talk to Sally Yates about her concerns about General Flynn being compromised?

COMEY: I did, I don't whether I can talk about it in this forum. But the answer is yes.

GRAHAM: That she had concerns about General Flynn and she expressed those concerns to you?

COMEY: Correct.

GRAHAM: We'll talk about that later. Do you stand by your house testimony of March 20 that there was no surveillance of the Trump campaign that you're aware of?

COMEY: Correct.

GRAHAM: You would know about it if they were, is that correct?

COMEY: I think so, yes.

GRAHAM: OK, Carter Page; was there a FISA warrant issued regarding Carter Page's activity with the Russians.

COMEY: I can't answer that here.

GRAHAM: Did you consider Carter page a agent of the campaign?

COMEY: Same answer, I can't answer that here.

GRAHAM: OK. Do you stand by your testimony that there is an active investigation counterintelligence investigation regarding Trump campaign individuals in the Russian government as to whether not to collaborate? You said that in March...

COMEY: To see if there was any coordination between the Russian effort and peoples...

GRAHAM: Is that still going on?

COMEY: Yes.

GRAHAM: OK. So nothing's changed.

[11:25:02] You stand by those two statements?

COMEY: Correct.

GRAHAM: But you won't tell me about Carter Page?

COMEY: Not here I won't.

GRAHAM: OK. The Chairman mentioned that fusion -- are you familiar with fusion?

COMEY: I know the name.

GRAHAM: OK. Are they part of the Russian intelligence apparatus? COMEY: I can't say.

GRAHAM: Do you agree with me that a fusion was involved in preparing the dossier against Donald Trump? That would be interfering in our election by the Russians?

COMEY: I don't want to say.

GRAHAM: OK. Do you agree with me that Anthony Weiner of 2016 should not have access to classified information?

COMEY: Yes. That's a fair statement.

GRAHAM: Would you agree with me that if that's not illegal, we've got really bad laws.

COMEY: Well, if he hadn't...

GRAHAM: Well he got it somehow.

COMEY: It would be illegal if he didn't have appropriate clearance... GRAHAM: Well, do agree with me he didn't have appropriate clearance?

COMEY: He...

GRAHAM: If he did have appropriate clearance that'd be even worse.

COMEY: I don't believe at the we found that on his laptop that he had any kind of...

GRAHAM: I agree. So for him to get it should be a crime. Somebody should be prosecuted for letting Anthony Weiner have access to classified information. Does that make general sense?

COMEY: It could be a crime. It would depend up what the...

GRAHAM: Well, do you agree with me it should be. That anybody that allows Anthony Weiner to have classified information probably should be prosecuted? If our laws don't cover that, they probably should...

COMEY: There's not Anthony Weiner statute, but it is -- there's already...

GRAHAM: Well, maybe we need -- good one.

COMEY: There's already a statute.

GRAHAM: All right good.

COMEY: There's already a statute to cover it. GRAHAM: I just wonder how he didn't get classified information and it not be a crime by somebody. Unmasking, are you familiar with that?

COMEY: I'm familiar with that term.

GRAHAM: OK. Has the Bureau ever request unmasking of an American citizen caught up in incidental collection?

COMEY: Yes. In fact I did it this week in connection with an intelligence report.

GRAHAM: All right. Before I authorize -- reauthorize 702 and I'm a pretty hawkish guy. I want to know how unmasking works. Are you aware of any request by the White house? Anybody in the Obama administration to unmask American citizens that were caught up in incidental serveilances in 2015 or 2016?

COMEY: I'm not. I'm not aware of any request to the FBI.

GRAHAM: Would you know -- who would they make the request to?

COMEY: Well they could make it to anyone in the FBI who was...

GRAHAM: What about the NSA, wouldn't you make it to the NSA?

COMEY: Sure if was an NSA report.

GRAHAM: OK.

COMEY: I mean I've read in the media, and heard about NSA reports...

GRAHAM: When you ask for unmasking, who do you ask, do you go to the NSA to ask that somebody be unmasked?

COMEY: When I want -- for example -- I'll give you an example -- I got a report this week that said, U.S. company number one. It has been removed and I said I believe I need to know the name of that company, so I asked my intelligence briefer who works for the (PDB) staff, say I'd like to know that, and then she goes and asks the owner of the information...

GRAHAM: Which would be the NSA?

COMEY: Well, in this case, I think it was CIA information saying the Director...

GRAHAM: OK. Does the owner of the information record requests for unmasking?

COMEY: I believe the NSA does. I don't know about CSA (ph), NSA definitely does.

GRAHAM: But there should be a record, somewhere in our government, for a request to unmask, regardless of who made the request?

COMEY: I think that's right.

GRAHAM: Is it fair to say that very few people can make requests for unmasking? I mean it's -- I can't go and make that request as a Senator, can I?

COMEY: Sure it's a fairly group -- the consumers, which I am, of that small set.

GRAHAM: Is the National Security Council within that group that can make this request, or do you know?

COMEY: I don't know for sure, I think the National Security Advisor certainly can.

GRAHAM: OK. When it comes to Russia, is it fair to say that the government of Russia actively provides safe haven to cyber criminals?

COMEY: Yes.

GRAHAM: Is it fair to say that the Russian government still involved in American politics?

COMEY: Yes.

GRAHAM: Is it fair to say we need to stop them from doing this?

COMEY: Yes, fair to say.

GRAHAM: Do you agree with me the only way they're going to stop this for them to pay a price for interfering in our political process?

COMEY: I think that's a fair statement.

GRAHAM: Yes, OK. So what we're doing today that is not working. They're still doing it. They're doing it all the world, aren't they?

COMEY: Yes.

GRAHAM: So what kind of threat do you believe Russia presents to our Democratic process, given what you know about Russia's behavior of late?

COMEY: Well, certainly in my view, the greatest threat of any nation on earth, given their intention and their capability.

GRAHAM: Do you agree that they did not change the actual vote tally, but one day they might?

COMEY: I agree that -- I very much we found no indication of any change in vote tallies. There was efforts aimed at voter registration systems, but I suppose in theory, part of the United States, the -- the beauty of our system is it's a bit of a hairball. And all different kinds of systems and -- and you know...

GRAHAM: Have they done this in other countries where they actually tampered with the vote?

COMEY: My -- my understanding is they have attempted it in other countries.

GRAHAM: And there's no reason they won't attempted here if we don't stop them over time?

[11:30:03] COMEY: I think that's fair.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

GRASSLEY: Senator Whitehouse?