In his accounts of his decision to notify Congress that the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails had been reopened in the waning days of the 2016 election, former FBI Director James Comey has always said he was trying to protect the FBI, despite the personal sacrifice that might entail.
“I knew this would be disastrous for me personally, but I thought this is the best way to protect these institutions that we care so much about,” Comey testified before Congress in May 2017. In his memoir, A Higher Loyalty, Comey wrote that he and the leadership at the FBI “kept coming down to the same place: the credibility of the institutions of justice was at stake.” In an op-ed written Thursday for The New York Times, Comey declared that “My team believed the damage of concealing the reopening of our investigation would have been catastrophic to the institution.”
But an internal Justice Department inquiry suggests Comey was also thinking of something else: keeping his job.
The Department of Justice inspector general’s report on the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation, released Thursday, includes multiple interviews that suggest Comey feared that failing to inform Congress that the FBI had potentially discovered messages relevant to the investigation was not “survivable,” that he might be “impeached,” should Congress discover after the fact that the investigation had been reopened during the election. That account is starkly at odds with the image that Comey himself has tried to cultivate, as a selfless public servant who was acting solely in the interest of the institutions he served. But in the recollections of top officials at the FBI and Justice Department, Comey wasn’t just worried about the damage to the Bureau, but also concerned about his ability to remain FBI director.