"After preliminary interviews with his staff, I met President Obama in the Oval Office. He sat in the same position President Bush always had, in an armchair with his back to the fireplace, on the side closest to the grandfather clock. I sat on the couch to his left, on the cushion closest to him. We were joined by the White House counsel, Kathy Ruemmler, who sat across from me.
I had never met President Obama before and was struck by two things: how much thinner he appeared in person and his ability to focus.
As Ruemmler and I stood just outside the Oval Office waiting for the meeting to begin, I could see the president standing at his desk holding the phone. Kathy said he was talking with the governor of Oklahoma about the historic tornadoes that had torn through that state, killing two dozen people and injuring hundreds.
Obama hung up the phone, waved me into the room, spoke briefly about the terrible tragedy in Oklahoma, and then shifted entirely to the new subject, the FBI.
The president was almost grave in explaining why he took the selection of the FBI director so seriously. "In a way, this and the Supreme Court are the two most important personnel decisions a president makes, because I'm choosing for the future," he said. "You will be here after I?m gone." He said he thought there was great value in that long tenure and hoped that if I were the director, I could help a new president. For example, he said he had been pushed to make military decisions as a new and inexperienced president and under great pressure from military leaders.
Without saying so, he seemed to be expressing regret that he didn't have the experienced counsel around him that he needed at the time. He thought it was good that I would be around to help a future, perhaps similarly inexperienced leader think about national security decisions better."
"After deciding I was his choice, but before he announced the nomination, President Obama surprised me by inviting me back to the Oval Office. We sat in the same seats and were again joined by the White House counsel.
The president opened the conversation by explaining, "Once you are director, we won?t be able to talk like this." What he meant was that for over forty years, the leaders of our government had understood that a president and an FBI director must be at arm's length.
The FBI is often called upon to investigate cases that touch on the president's senior aides and affect the course of his presidency. To be credible, both in reality and in perception, the FBI and its director cannot be close with the president. So one final time, President Obama and I had the kind of conversation two college classmates might.
We discussed and debated hard issues that were not under the FBI director's purview, like using drones to kill terrorists. I was struck by the way he could see and evaluate a variety of angles on a complicated issue. And I suppose he wanted to make one last assessment of me and the way I thought through problems before my nomination was a done deal.
On the way out the door, I told Kathy Ruemmler how surprised I was by the interesting discussion, telling her, "I can't believe someone with such a supple mind actually got elected president."
President Obama and I would never have another casual conversation.
Like the U.S. Marshals who protected me as deputy attorney general, the special agents who watched over me and my family became family. Which is a good thing, because we tested them as only relatives can.
Once we were in Iowa for a wedding on Patrice's side. I went to bed while Patrice stayed up late playing cards with our kids and their cousins. As it typically was, my hotel room was alarmed in all kinds of ways, and all around me in the hotel were agents. And as they typically did, the agents gave me a device with a button to push in the event of dire emergency. I was afraid of this thing and always put it far away from me in a hotel room, so I didn't accidentally touch it during the night.
This night, I put it on a countertop in the outer room and went to sleep in the bedroom, far away from it.
I didn't tell Patrice I had put the button on the counter in the outer room, the exact place where she was changing quietly at 2:00 A.M. so as not to wake me. She must have put something on top of the button, because there was pounding on the door about five seconds later. She opened the door a crack to see the lead agent standing at an odd angle, wearing a T-shirt and boxer shorts. He was holding his arm so she couldn't see his hand behind his back. He looked very tense.
"Is everything all right, ma'am?" "Yes. I'm just getting ready for bed." "Are you sure everything is all right, ma'am?" "Yes." "Can I see the director, ma'am?" "He's sleeping in the other room." "Will you check on him, please?" Patrice walked to the bedroom door, saw me, and reported back. "I see him there sleeping. He's fine." "Thank you, ma'am. Sorry to bother you."
What Patrice couldn't see, but I learned the next morning, was that there were agents stacked down the wall on either side of the door, guns held low and behind their backs. She had touched the button.
Thank you. The book is very interesting. The difficulty is copy/pasting excerpts.
Keyboard input is different for an iMac and it requires a considerable amount of editing with this very slow method of posting. It takes a while to get the quotes correct and I break apart some paragraphs to read easier on a computer or tablet.
The FBI director eats in the FBI headquarters cafeteria whenever he can. It's sometimes a humbling experience:
"I also never cut the line. Even when I wished I could, or even when I was in a hurry. I stood and waited as people in front of me ordered panini (which take forever, by the way). I thought it was very important to show people that I'm not better than anyone else.
So I waited.
The wait in line allowed me to interview people. I would turn to the person next to me and ask them to tell me their story, including what they liked about their job at the FBI. I learned a tremendous amount from these many conversations. One lesson was that I wasn't the big deal I thought I was.
One day after I had been on the job for close to a year, I turned to the guy behind me and asked him about himself. I learned that he worked on computer servers. He said he had been with the FBI for three years, and what he liked best about the agency was that he could get experience and responsibility far beyond what the private sector offered someone his age. There was an awkward pause, and he probably thought he needed to be polite. So he asked, "How 'bout yourself?"
"I'm the director," I replied. Bobbing his head side to side to emphasize his question, he asked, "Director of??" "Dude," I said, "I'm the director of the FBI. You work for me." Another awkward pause. Finally, he said, "Oh, you look so different online." That evening I went home and told Patrice that story. "That should happen to you every day," she said with a laugh.
"I knew there were other areas where we could improve, and I suggested to the entire workforce that they read Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'Letter from Birmingham Jail,' one of the most important things I ever read.
Inspired in part by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, King's letter is about seeking justice in a deeply flawed world. I have reread it several times since first encountering it in college. Because I knew that the FBI's interaction with the civil rights movement, and Dr. King in particular, was a dark chapter in the Bureau's history, I wanted to do something more.
I ordered the creation of a curriculum at the FBI's Quantico training academy. I wanted all agent and analyst trainees to learn the history of the FBI's interaction with King, how the legitimate counterintelligence mission against Communist infiltration of our government had morphed into an unchecked, vicious campaign of harassment and extralegal attack on the civil rights leader and others.
I wanted them to remember that well-meaning people lost their way. I wanted them to know that the FBI sent King a letter blackmailing him and suggesting he commit suicide.
I wanted them to stare at that history, visit the inspiring King Memorial in Washington, D.C., with its long arcs of stone bearing King's words, and reflect on the FBI's values and our responsibility to always do better."
Establishing a transparent culture within the FBI:
"Getting problems, pain, hopes, and doubts out on the table so we can talk honestly about them and work to improve is the best way to lead. By acknowledging our issues, we have the best chance of resolving them in a healthy way.
Buried pain never gets better with age. And by remembering and being open and truthful about our mistakes, we reduce the chance we will repeat them.
Harry Truman once said, "The only thing new in the world is the history you don?t know." Humans tend to do the same dumb things, and the same evil things, again and again, because we forget."
A little long, but necessary to establish the FBI role in the Michael Brown case:
ERIC GARNER. TAMIR RICE. Walter Scott. Freddie Gray.
Those are the names of some of the black civilians who died during encounters with the police in 2014 and 2015. Those encounters were captured on video, and those videos went viral, igniting communities that had been soaked in the flammable liquid of discrimination and mistreatment. And although it didn't involve video of the shooting, one death, in particular, rocked the country.
On August 9, 2014, a young black man named Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, touching off weeks of unrest in that community and bringing unprecedented attention in America to the use of deadly force by police against black people.
In the months after the shooting, the federal investigation discovered some important truths. The Ferguson police had been engaged in a pattern of discriminatory behavior directed at African Americans, and the town governance, from ticketing practices to the bail system, operated to oppress black people.
As in so many American towns and cities, the police needed to change before African Americans would trust them. It was understandable that Michael Brown's death was a tragic spark that ignited a powder keg built by oppressive policing in that community.
But in the end, the Department of Justice found there wasn't sufficient evidence to charge that police officer with federal civil rights crimes for shooting Michael Brown. FBI agents knocked on hundreds of doors throughout Ferguson and discovered not only that there was not sufficient evidence but also that early media accounts of the shooting were factually wrong and misleading.
Comey acquaints himself with his new organization. The percentage of non gun carrying employees surprised me:
In my first fifteen months as director, I visited all fifty-six FBI offices in the United States and more than a dozen overseas. I went there to listen and learn about the people of the FBI. What are they like, what do they want, what do they need?
I spent hours and hours meeting them and listening to them. The first thing that struck me was that two-thirds of the FBI's employees are not gun-carrying special agents. They are an extraordinarily diverse array of talented people, from all walks of life, serving in the FBI as intelligence analysts, linguists, computer scientists, hostage negotiators, surveillance specialists, lab experts, victim specialists, bomb technicians, and in many other roles.
The one-third who are special agents, especially the thousands who were drawn by love of country after 9/11 to service in the FBI, are similarly diverse: former cops and marines, but also former teachers, chemists, therapists, clergy, accountants, software engineers, and professional athletes.
Many of them look like TV special agents, tall, attractive men and women in business dress, but they come in all shapes and sizes, from crew cuts to ponytails, from ankle tattoos to hijabs, from six foot ten to four foot ten. What drives them all is a palpable sense of mission. They helped me rewrite the organization's mission statement to match what was already written on their hearts: they exist to "protect the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States."
Two different administrations, two different approaches to listening:
To be effective at the FBI, I spent a lot of time listening, something we all struggle to do well. It is hard for leaders to listen well because it requires us to be vulnerable, to risk our superior position.
Barack Obama surprised me by picking me as FBI director. And this is where Barack Obama surprised me yet again. He was an extraordinary listener, as good as any I've seen in leadership.
In various meetings with the president, I watched him work hard to draw as many viewpoints as possible into a conversation, frequently disregarding the hierarchy reflected in seating arrangements-principals at the table, lower-ranked folks in chairs against the wall. I can recall a meeting in the Situation Room about a classified technology topic where President Obama asked some Silicon Valley whiz kid without a tie sitting against the wall what he thought of the discussion the formally dressed leaders of the nation's military and intelligence agencies had just had at the table.
The shaggy dude then contradicted several of us.
Obama hunted for points of view. Maybe it was a legacy of his life as a professor, cold-calling someone in the back row. This approach often led to chaotic conversations, but it allowed him to hear views that, in the Bush administration, would have been watered down by rank or by fear of being teased.
No guy without a tie would have been in the Bush Situation Room, and if he somehow snuck into a back-row seat, he would not be called upon, and if he spoke anyway, he would be mocked for his attire.
I worked to build an atmosphere of trust by encouraging leaders to tell the truth about something personal. I asked an entire conference room of FBI senior executives to tell the group something about themselves that would surprise the room, quickly adding, to much laughter, that it should ideally not be something that would jeopardize their security clearance.
Weeks later, I went around the room and asked them to tell me their favorite Halloween candy as a child. In November, I requested their favorite food at Thanksgiving, and, in December, their favorite gift of the holiday season.
Of course, these could be seen as childish techniques, the kind a teacher might urge on an elementary school classroom, but children open up and trust one another in amazing ways. We were in need of a little more childlike behavior in our lives, because children tend to tell each other the truth more often than adults do.
I would need that culture of truth, and habit of true listening, when the FBI ended up, improbably and unexpectedly, in the middle of the 2016 election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
I HAVE NEVER MET Hillary Clinton, although I tried.
When I became the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York in January 2002, I asked my assistant to arrange an introduction to the state's junior senator. I thought it was a standard thing for the United States Attorney-there were four of us representing the federal government in New York State-to know the senators in the state, and I didn't want to be rude. I had met the other senator, Chuck Schumer, during the Senate confirmation process, but for some reason I had not met Clinton.
After a number of attempts and multiple messages with Clinton's office, we gave up. It wasn't a big deal at the time, but I found it odd.
To this day, I don't know why the meeting never happened. I suppose it could be the result of poor administrative support at Clinton?s office, or she was simply too busy.
I suppose it also could have been due to the fact that seven years earlier, I had worked for five months for the Senate committee investigating the Clintons for a variety of things grouped under the heading "Whitewater." I was a junior lawyer for the committee, still working at a Richmond law firm and charging the Senate by the hour.
My focus was largely on the suicide of the former deputy White House counsel, Vincent Foster, and the handling of documents in his office. But my role on the Whitewater committee was so minor and so short-I left the assignment when our son Collin died in August 1995-that it seemed unlikely that was the reason the senator wasn't returning my calls.
On July 6, 2015, the Bureau received a referral from the inspector general of the intelligence community, a congressionally created independent office focused on finding risks and vulnerabilities across the nation?s vast intelligence community. The referral raised the issue of whether Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had mishandled classified information while using her personal email system.
On July 10, the FBI opened a criminal investigation. The Obama administration's Justice Department, then run by Attorney General Loretta Lynch, assigned prosecutors to support the investigation. As with hundreds of other investigations, the case was opened at the FBI far below my level, and I learned of it when the deputy director briefed me on it.
The facts of the case were straightforward: Hillary Clinton had used her personal email system, on a server and with an email address that was entirely of her own creation, to conduct her work as secretary of state. She set the server up several months after taking office. For the first few months of her tenure, she had used a personal AT&T BlackBerry email address before switching to a Clintonemail.com domain.
In the course of doing her work, she emailed with other State employees. In the course of emailing those people, the inspector general discovered, she and they talked about classified topics in the body of dozens of their emails.
Though much has been made since of Hillary Clinton's emails and the FBI's investigation, the focus of the Bureau's investigation is often lost. The criminal investigation was not centered on the fact that Secretary Clinton decided to use nongovernmental email to do her work. In an attempt to blur the seriousness of the case, her defenders often cite the fact that one of her predecessors, Colin Powell, also used nongovernmental email, in his case AOL, as if that were relevant to the investigation. In fact, it entirely misses the point.
I have never seen any indication that Powell discussed on his AOL account information that was classified at the time, but there were numerous examples of Secretary Clinton having done so.
Our investigation required us to answer two questions. The first question was whether classified documents were moved outside of classified systems or whether classified topics were discussed outside of a classified system. If so, the second question was what the subject of the investigation was thinking when she mishandled that classified information.
Despite the endless drumbeat in the conservative media, filled with exaggerated scandals and breathless revelations of little practical import, Hillary Clinton's case, at least as far as we knew at the start, did not appear to come anywhere near General Petraeus's in the volume and classification level of the material mishandled.
Although she seemed to be using an unclassified system for some classified topics, everyone she emailed appeared to have both the appropriate clearance and a legitimate need to know the information.
So although we were not going to prejudge the result, we started the Clinton investigation aware that it was unlikely to be a case that the career prosecutors at the Department of Justice would prosecute. That might change, of course, if we could find a smoking-gun email where someone in government told Secretary Clinton not to do what she was doing, or if we could prove she obstructed justice, or if she, like Petraeus, lied to us during an interview.
It would all turn on what we could prove beyond a reasonable doubt, a very different standard from that of television talk shows or Congressional sound bites.
The Clinton investigation, or inquiry, or referral, or whatever people on either side of the political spectrum chose to call it, was already a major topic in the emerging presidential campaign. Giuliano's point, which I saw clearly, was that this was a no-win scenario for the FBI.
At the core of Mark's gallows humor was a gallows. No matter what the honest outcome, the institution's credibility-and mine-would be damaged; the only question was how much.
As strange as it might sound, there is a certain freedom in being totally screwed, in knowing you will be attacked no matter what you do. Half the country will howl either way, so tune out the critics and let only the facts and the law dictate which half. At the time, of course, it never occurred to me that our decisions could outrage both halves.
Trying to figure out how to represent the investigation- public or private:
As it happened, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and I had scheduled appearances with reporters at the beginning of October where it was obvious that we each would be pressed on whether the Justice Department was acting on the referral we'd received from the intelligence community inspector general.
If we were going to confirm an investigation, I thought this would be a sensible time to do it. So, in late September, I scheduled a meeting with the attorney general to discuss this possibility. The senior leadership of DOJ and the FBI also attended the meeting, which was held in a conference room in the Justice Department?s Command Center.
I had known Loretta Lynch since the early 1990s, when we worked a case together as prosecutors in New York. Drug dealers we were investigating in Manhattan were plotting to kill a federal judge in Brooklyn, where she was an Assistant United States Attorney, so we joined forces on the case. She was a smart lawyer and honest person, open to hearing others' points of view.
In the Justice Command Center, I explained that I thought we had reached a point where at my regular quarterly press roundtable, set for October 1, I should confirm we had a Clinton email investigation open, which the whole world knew anyway, but then offer no further details.
Attorney General Lynch agreed that it made sense to do that. But then she quickly added, "Call it 'a matter.'"
"Why would I do that?" I asked.
"Just call it 'a matter,'" came her answer.
I followed the attorney general's direction at my regular quarterly press roundtable on October 1, 2015. When a reporter asked a question about the "investigation," I replied that I was following it closely. I said I was confident we had "the resources and the personnel assigned to the matter, as we do all our work, so that we are able to do it in a professional, prompt, and independent way."
I did what my boss ordered me to do. I said "matter."
As expected, the press uniformly missed the distinction and reported that I had confirmed the existence of an investigation. From then on, I called it by its true name,we had an open "investigation" and I wouldn't comment on it any further.
The FBI pieces back together the Clinton email server and draws tentative conclusions:
The Midyear Exam investigators worked hard all winter, digging for evidence that would help us determine what Secretary Clinton was thinking when she set up her email system and when she used it. They read every email they could find, they searched for emails in the mailboxes of others she might have written to, they tracked down the people who created her system, maintained it, and supplied her mobile devices, and they interviewed everyone who worked around her at the State Department.
The supervisory investigator and analyst met with me about every two weeks to update me on their team's work, much of which involved painstaking reconstruction of electronic records. For example, agents found a decommissioned server that had once hosted her personal email domain, but the email software had been removed by technical personnel as a routine matter when the server was replaced, which was like dropping millions of tiny email fragments into the bottom of the server.
With incredible, painstaking skill, the FBI team put much of that mind-boggling jigsaw puzzle back together.
Still, by early 2016, it was starting to look like we did not have a prosecutable case. We had more work to do, and needed to interview Secretary Clinton-something the investigators, as was typical in cases like this, were saving for late in the investigation, after we had gathered all available information.
But so far we had not found evidence that would form a prosecutable case. We knew that the Department of Justice would never bring-and had never brought-criminal charges in such a situation without strong evidence that the subject of our investigation knew she was doing something she shouldn't be doing.
Accidents, sloppiness, and even extreme carelessness with regard to classified information were not things that were prosecuted. Ever. For a current government employee, of course, there would be severe consequences for such carelessness, including the real possibility of losing access to classified information or getting fired, but there would be no criminal prosecution.
What's the end game gonna look like? Competent people look ahead:
In early spring, as I began to see the end of the investigation coming with insufficient evidence to support a prosecution, I urged the deputy attorney general-my immediate boss-to give thought to what the endgame might look like if the case were to be closed without charges.
Sally Yates was a career prosecutor whom I had known casually for years. She and one of my close friends had been federal prosecutors together in Atlanta, where she earned a reputation as tough, thoughtful, and independent. Everything I saw as FBI director was consistent with that reputation.
Because this was not a normal case, and 2016 was not a normal year, I suggested to Yates that unusual transparency might be necessary to reassure the American people and to protect the institutions of justice. I said I hoped she would put people to work researching what was possible under the law.
I never heard back.
Any investigator or prosecutor who doesn't have a sense, after nearly a year of investigation, where their case is likely headed, is incompetent. Prosecutors routinely begin drafting indictments before an investigation is finished if it looks likely to end up there, and competent ones also begin thinking about how to end investigations that seem likely to end without charges. In neither case are minds closed to a different outcome if subsequent evidence dictates, but competent people think ahead.
Sally Yates was a career prosecutor whom I had known casually for years. She and one of my close friends had been federal prosecutors together in Atlanta, where she earned a reputation as tough, thoughtful, and independent. Everything I saw as FBI director was consistent with that reputation.
That's the way Comey would describe her, because he is a little delusional (Like her). Sally Yates and Comey both refused to follow the chain of command. They could have both quit and complained outside the government and remained within appropriate behavior. But, they insisted on doing their own (inappropriate) things. Comey will eventually face charges. It's obvious.
One weekend in early May, I typed a draft statement laying out the findings of this case with the most aggressive transparency possible assuming the investigation ended in the current position. Unless we suddenly found a smoking-gun email or directive clearly pointing to Clinton's intent, or unless she lied to us in an FBI interview, both of which were possibilities, this was the way I expected the case to end.
In such a poisonous political environment, I knew we needed to think far in advance how best to present our decision. Many changes were made to those early drafts. I tried out different ways to most accurately describe the nature of Secretary Clinton's conduct. Her actions in regard to her emails seemed really sloppy to us, more than ordinary carelessness.
At one point the draft used the term "grossly negligent," and also explained that in this case those words should not be interpreted the way a hundred-year-old criminal statute used the term. One part of that 1917 law made it a felony if a person "through gross negligence permits [classified material] to be removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in violation of his trust, or to be lost, stolen, abstracted, or destroyed."
The history of that provision strongly indicated that Congress in 1917 meant the statute to apply only to conduct that was very close to willful-that is, driven by bad intent-and members of Congress who voted for it back then were very concerned that they not make merely careless behavior a felony.
I was told that the Department of Justice had only charged one person under this statute since 1917-a corrupt FBI agent whose conduct was far worse than gross negligence-and no one had ever been convicted under it.
This context strongly reinforced my sense that the statute simply did not apply in the Clinton email case and made use of the term "grossly negligent" inappropriate and potentially confusing, given the old statute. So I directed our team to consider other terms that more accurately captured her behavior. After looking at multiple drafts, I settled on "extremely careless" as the best way to describe the conduct.
In May, I went to Sally Yates and told her this was dragging on too long. We were now weeks from the conventions and I was close to the point where I was going to recommend the appointment of a special prosecutor.
My predecessors had done that from time to time, most prominently when Director Louis Freeh recommended in writing that the attorney general appoint one to investigate then President Bill Clinton's fund-raising activities.
I said that soon it would be too late for this Department of Justice to complete the investigation without grievous damage to public faith in our work. It would require a prosecutor outside the control of the political leadership of the department. I didn't know the date I would recommend such a thing, I said, but we were getting close, unless we got those laptops.
Yates understood. I don't know what she did, but almost immediately the Midyear team could feel an injection of energy and backbone into the junior lawyers at the Justice Department. Suddenly they were hell-bent on getting those laptops.
Within a week or two, the lawyers had negotiated a deal that got us what we needed-the physical laptop devices and interviews of the lawyers who used them to sort Clinton's emails. I don?t know how they convinced the private lawyers to make the deal, because the FBI was not involved in the negotiations.
We got the access we wanted and found nothing that changed our view of the case, but I was now satisfied that we had done what a credible investigation required.
While all this wrestling over the lawyer laptops was going on, I spent June still struggling with what I thought was the endgame. How do we close the Clinton email case-six weeks before the Democratic Conventio-in a way that maximizes public confidence that the institutions of justice have acted justly?
Two things happened that brought me back to the crazy idea of personally offering the American people unusual transparency, and doing it without the leadership of the Justice Department.
First, in mid-June, the Russian government began dumping emails stolen from institutions associated with the Democratic Party. It began with entities calling themselves DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0. They were stolen emails intended to harm Clinton and the Democrats. This made very real the prospect that the classified material relating to Loretta Lynch might drop at any moment, not decades from now.
As noted earlier, the release of that material, the truth of which we had not verified, would allow partisans to argue, powerfully, that the Clinton campaign, through Lynch, had been controlling the FBI's investigation.
Then, on Monday, June 27, on a hot Phoenix airport tarmac, Bill Clinton and Attorney General Lynch met privately aboard an FBI Gulfstream 5 jet for about twenty minutes.
When I first heard about this impromptu meeting, I didn't pay much attention to it. I didn't have any idea what they talked about. But to my eye, the notion that this conversation would impact the investigation was ridiculous. If Bill Clinton were going to try to influence the attorney general, he wouldn't do it by walking across a busy tarmac, in broad daylight, and up a flight of stairs past a group of FBI special agents.
Besides, Lynch wasn't running the investigation anyway. But none of these basic realities had any impact on the cable news punditry. As the firestorm grew in the media, I paid more attention, watching it become another corrosive talking point about how the Obama Justice Department couldn't be trusted to complete the Clinton email investigation.
In the middle of that firestorm, the attorney general rejected calls that she recuse herself from the Hillary Clinton investigation altogether. Instead, on Friday, July 1, she chose a very strange position-that she would not remove herself, but she would accept my recommendation about the case and that of the career prosecutors at Justice. In effect, she was removing herself but not removing herself.
The decision to present the report outside of the AG:
The FBI was independent and apolitical, and the American people needed to see that.
To protect that reservoir, I made a decision.
I needed to visibly step away from Loretta Lynch and do something I never could have imagined before 2016: have the FBI separately offer its views to the American people as soon as possible, by making public my recommendation and the thinking behind it.
I knew this was going to suck for me. From the Democratic side would come predictable stuff about my wanting the spotlight, being out of control, driven by ego. From the Republican side would come more allegations of Justice Department incompetence or corruption. And it could forever sour my relationship with the leadership of the Justice Department.
But I believed-and still believe, even in hindsight-it was the best thing for the FBI and for the Department of Justice.
The American people needed and deserved transparency, and I believed that I had the independent reputation to step out front and take the hits to protect the reservoir.
As things stood, I was going to step to a podium on Tuesday morning, July 5, in FBI headquarters and end this case. Unless, of course, Hillary Clinton lied to us when we finally conducted our interview with her, on July 2, 2016.
Many pundits have questioned why the FBI waited so long to interrogate Secretary Clinton when she was the subject of the inquiry.
That is exactly the reason. Experienced investigators always avoid conducting interviews with subjects who know more about the facts than they do. That knowledge imbalance favors the subject, not the investigator. Especially in white-collar crime cases, investigators prefer to master all of the facts before questioning the subject, so that interrogators can ask smart questions and so the subject can be confronted, as necessary, with documents or statements made by other witnesses.
That is what the FBI did in every standard investigation; and that is what the Midyear team did with Hillary Clinton. The agents and analysts of the FBI spent a year learning all they could about how Secretary Clinton set up and used her personal email system.
Now we were ready to see if, under extensive questioning, she would lie to us about any of it and whether we could prove she had lied. In white-collar criminal cases, we often find that a subject will lie to cover up bad behavior, offering us a way to prosecute even where we can?t make a case on the substantive charges that started the case.
It is unlikely that a sophisticated, well-represented person will lie in a way we can prove, but Stewart and Libby show it can happen. The Clinton interview, while coming at the end of our investigation, was extremely important.
There has been so much misinformation spread about the nature of this interview that the actual events that took place merit discussion.
After being discreetly delivered by the Secret Service to the FBI's basement garage, Hillary Clinton was interviewed by a five-member joint FBI and Department of Justice team. She was accompanied by five members of her legal team.
None of Clinton's lawyers who were there remained investigative subjects in the case at that point. The interview, which went on for more than three hours, was conducted in a secure conference room deep inside FBI headquarters and led by the two senior special agents on the case.
With the exception of the secret entry to the FBI building, they treated her like any other interview subject. I was not there, which only surprises those who don't know the FBI and its work. The director does not attend these kinds of interviews.
My job was to make final decisions on the case, not to conduct the investigation. We had professional investigators, schooled on all of the intricacies of the case, assigned to do that.
We also as a matter of procedure don't tape interviews of people not under arrest. We instead have professionals who take detailed notes. Secretary Clinton was not placed under oath during the interview, but this too was standard procedure. The FBI doesn't administer oaths during voluntary interviews. Regardless, under federal law, it would still have been a felony if Clinton was found to have lied to the FBI during her interview, whether she was under oath or not.
In short, despite a whole lot of noise in the media and Congress after the fact, the agents interviewed Hillary Clinton following the FBI?s standard operating procedures.
After discussion and careful review of her answers, there was nothing in her comments that we could prove was a lie beyond a reasonable doubt. There was no moment when investigators caught her in a lie.
She did not at any point confess wrongdoing or indicate that she knew what she had done with her emails was wrong. Whether we believed her or not, we had no significant proof otherwise. And there was no additional work the investigators thought they should do.
This case was done. Now the American people needed to know what the FBI had found.
I spent Sunday and Monday with the team, working on the announcement. We decided to do it live and in person so that people heard it all at once, and we worked hard to maintain the professional, nonpartisan tone we intended.
We would keep it short and take no questions, but try to offer as much detail and transparency as possible. We believed that the details of what we did and what we found were essential to the credibility of the investigation and the announcement.
Every word of the statement was reviewed by the FBI legal team to ensure it was consistent with the law and Department of Justice policy.
I was nervous on the morning of July 5, for a bunch of reasons. It felt like I was about to damage my career. That's okay, I told myself; you are fifty-five years old, you have money in the bank and a ten-year term, and you don't want to be anything else; you aren't trying to climb anyplace.
I was also nervous because I liked both the attorney general and the deputy attorney general and I was about to piss them off by not coordinating with them on a public statement about a high-profile case because any coordination could be perceived as political influence. Although I felt duty bound to call them before my announcement to tell them I was doing it, I was also not going to tell them what I was about to say. Awkward.
When I called Sally Yates, I told her I was about to make an announcement on the Clinton case and that I was not coordinating my statement with the Justice Department. When I gave her this news, she asked no questions. Although I have never spoken to her about it, I think Yates understood what I was doing and why, and appreciated it.
Attorney General Lynch's response was a little different. She asked only, "What will you be recommending?"
"I'm sorry, but I'm not going to answer that,?"I replied. "It's very important that I not have coordinated this in any way with the department. I hope someday you will understand why."
She said nothing.
I hung up and walked out of my office. I stopped on the way to authorize the release of an email to the entire FBI. I wanted them to hear from me first:
As I send this, I am about to walk downstairs to deliver a statement to the media about our investigation of Secretary Clinton's use of a personal email server during her time as Secretary of State. I have attached a copy of the statement I intend to give. You will notice immediately that I am going to provide more detail about our process than we normally would in connection with an investigation, including our recommendation to Justice that no charges be brought.
I am doing that because I think the confidence of the American people in the FBI is a precious thing, and I want them to understand that we did this investigation in a competent, honest, and independent way. Folks outside the FBI may disagree about the result, but I don't want there to be any doubt that this was done in an apolitical and professional way and that our conclusion is honestly held, carefully considered, and ours alone.
I have not coordinated or reviewed my statement with anyone except a small group of FBI officials who worked on the investigation. Nobody elsewhere in government has any idea what I am about to say, and that's the way it should be.
There is a lot of the pronoun "I" above, but this investigation and the conclusion are the product of a large and talented FBI team, made up of agents, analysts, technical experts, lawyers, and others. I have stayed close to it simply to ensure that the team had the resources they needed and that nobody interfered with them.
I am proud to represent their work, and the entire FBI. We have done it the way the American people expect and deserve.
After a September congressional hearing, despite all of the criticism, at least I could say the Bureau was rid of this awful case. We had offered transparency, tried to show the American people competence, honesty, and independence, and now the presidential campaign could run its course.
Months later, during our January 27, 2017, dinner, President Trump told me that I had "saved her" with my July press conference. That was not my intention, just as I did not intend to "save him" with what came later. The goal was to tell the truth and demonstrate what higher loyalty-to the institutions of justice-looks like.
So my deputy director was right; we really were screwed, and it was as painful as anticipated. We had tasted the poison of our political system, and I had taken all the hits I anticipated, but I also felt great relief because the FBI and I were finished with Hillary Clinton and her emails.
Russian election interference was a concurrent investigation with Clinton's emails:
ALTHOUGH THE CLINTON email case seemed like the center of the universe to the Washington political class, the FBI was actually involved in many other important matters.
During the summer of 2016, we were working like crazy to understand what the Russians were up to. Evidence within the intelligence community strongly suggested that the Russian government was trying to interfere in the election in three ways.
First, they sought to undermine confidence in the American democratic enterprise-to dirty us up so that our election process would no longer be an inspiration to the rest of the world.
Second, the Russians wanted to hurt Hillary Clinton. Putin hated her, blaming her personally for large street demonstrations against him in Moscow in December 2011. Putin believed Clinton had given "a signal" to demonstrators by publicly criticizing what she called "troubling practices" before and during the parliamentary vote in Russia that year. She said, "The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted." Putin took that as an unforgivable personal attack.
Third, Putin wanted to help Donald Trump win. Trump had been saying favorable things about the Russian government and Putin had shown a long-standing appreciation for business leaders who cut deals rather than stand on principle.
A public acknowledgment that some kind of investigation is underway:
Finally, a month later, in early October, the Obama team decided some kind of formal statement from the administration was in order after all.
The director of national intelligence, Jim Clapper, and the secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, were prepared to sign it. The FBI leadership team and I decided that there was not an adequate reason for us to also sign on.
By that point, there was widespread media coverage of a Russian campaign to influence the election. Numerous unnamed government officials were identified as sources in those stories. Prominent legislators issued statements and told the media they had been briefed about the Russian interference campaign. Candidate Clinton herself was talking about the Russian effort to elect her opponent.
The websites and social media outlets pushing out stolen emails-including WikiLeaks and the Twitter page of its founder, Julian Assange-were widely and publicly associated with Russia. Given all of that, the administration's October statement was at best a marginal addition to the public's knowledge.
Adding the FBI's name would change nothing and be inconsistent with the way we hoped to operate on the eve of an election.