The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday evening accused former FBI director James Comey of providing false testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. According to DOJ spokesman Ian Prior, who made the accusations against Comey via an official DOJ press release, Comey did not answer truthfully when Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Cali.) asked him about the process by which Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any federal investigations of Russian interference with the 2016 elections.
Harris specifically asked Comey about his understanding of the process by which Sessions recused himself, and the specific rules regarding his involvement in the investigations post-recusal. Comey claimed that everything he knew about the topic came entirely from public statements by Sessions and that he was not aware of any DOJ memoranda “outlining the parameters of [Sessions’] recusal.”
Here’s the transcript of the exchange between Harris and Comey:
HARRIS: Thank you. As a former attorney general, I have a series of questions in connection with your connection with the attorney general while you were FBI director. What is your understanding of the parameters of Attorney General Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation?
COMEY: I think it’s described in a written release from DOJ which I don’t remember sitting here but the gist is he will be recused from all matters relating to Russia or the campaign. Or the activities of Russia and the ’16 election or something like that.
HARRIS: So, is your knowledge of the extent of the recusal based on the public statements he’s made?
HARRIS: Is there any kind of memorandum issued from the attorney general to the FBI outlining the parameters of his recusal?
COMEY: Not that I’m aware of.
HARRIS: Do you know if he reviewed any DOJ documents before he was recused?
COMEY: I don’t know.
HARRIS: And after he was recused. I’m assuming same answer?
COMEY: Same answer.
HARRIS: And aside from any notice or memorandum that was not sent or was what process would be to make sure that the attorney general would not have any connection to the investigation torsion your knowledge?
COMEY: I don’t know for sure. I know he had consulted with career ethics officials that know how to run a recusal at DOJ. But I don’t know what mechanism they set up.
However, according to DOJ, Comey was repeatedly made aware of the parameters of Sessions’ recusal, including via a March 2 e-mail to Comey from the DOJ chief of staff which specifically instructed federal officials that they were prohibited from discussing details of the relevant investigations with Sessions.
“[O]n March 2, 2017, the Attorney General’s Chief of Staff sent the attached email specifically informing Mr. Comey and other relevant Department officials of the recusal and its parameters, and advising that each of them instruct their staff ‘not to brief the Attorney General about, or otherwise involve the Attorney General in, any such matters described,” the DOJ press release claims.
The e-mail cited by the DOJ spokesman was reportedly sent to top officials, including Comey, the same day Sessions officially recused himself from any involvement in the investigations of Russian interference. Contrary to Comey’s claims that he only learned about the parameters of the recusal from press coverage and that he never received any memoranda or other documents on the matter, the March 2 e-mail makes clear that Comey was in fact briefed by top DOJ staff on the parameters of the recusal.
This would not be the first time Comey provided inaccurate sworn testimony to Congress. In May, the FBI was forced to clarify Comey’s claims to the Senate Judiciary Committee about how Anthony Weiner came to be in possession of thousands of e-mails from Huma Abedin, one of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s top aides.
Comey has not yet indicated whether he plans to formally revise his testimony based on Thursday’s accusation by DOJ.