‘How’s that not double standard?’
LEIGH Sales has accused former FBI director James Comey of "double standards" for his focus on Hillary Clinton's email scandal.
In a special edition of the ABC's 7.30 program, Sales questioned the fairness of airing allegations relating to the Democratic nominee's email server, while the FBI initially kept its investigations into alleged collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign quiet.
"How is it not a double standard that you aired a great deal of information about the investigation into her and not into the Russian one?" Sales asked.
Comey conceded it was a "reasonable question", and said it was because the counterintelligence investigations were just beginning.
"The Clinton investigation was public by that point and we were closing it, and the secretary had been the subject of it," said Comey. "The counterintelligence investigations were just starting. They started three weeks later, and were at an incredibly early stage involving - not the candidate - but trying to figure out whether people were working with the Russians around the candidate.
"We needed to offer the American people transparency, so that they could have confidence that it was done in a competent, honest and independent way.
"You can't care about what other people think of you. When you run an organisation like the FBI in the Justice Department, you have to care that the public has confidence in your work."
Sales fired back: "If you were concerned at the FBI being seen to be apolitical, why did you describe (Clinton's) behaviour as extremely careless? You could have simply said there's no criminal behaviour here, and left it at that."
"It was obvious that her behaviour was careless, given that there was classified information on an unclassified system," responded Comey. "And I thought if I'm not honest with the American people over what we found and explained to them why we don't think it justifies recommending the charges, we would have undercut the credibility of the announcement."
Leigh went on to ask Comey about the FBI's controversial decision to reopen the investigation into Ms Clinton's emails just days before the election - a move many pundits believe influenced voters.
"Despite saying throughout this period you were concerned with having the FBI seem apolitical, that is a clear political calculation you've made there?"
"I don't see it that way," replied Comey. "I see it as a consideration of what damage will flow to the institutions from possible futures."
"That is a political consideration though, isn't it?" fired back Sales.
Comey said he was trying to pick the option that would do "the least damage to the institutions of justice".
"I wish I could have found a door that said 'here is the good option', but the public trust dictated that we have to do the bad thing, not the catastrophic thing," he said.
But Leigh didn't let him off that easily.
"You considered what would happen to the legitimacy of Hillary Clinton's presidency if your investigation was discovered after the election. But because you kept the Trump-Russia investigation a secret, isn't this the exact position in which the US now finds itself, which is a President who may have engaged in prosecutable criminal activity - and that the FBI concealed it before the election?"
Comey disagreed, saying it would have been "highly irresponsible" to acknowledge an investigation without having a concrete statement to go with it.
When asked if he would handle the Clinton investigation differently in hindsight, he said he would in "small ways", but said he believes the FBI chose the "least bad alternative" in that case.
ON ALEXANDER DOWNER
Comey said he was aware of allegations that Russia had "dirt" on US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton long before the 2016 election - and that Moscow was going to attempt to influence it's outcome.
"Information came to the US intelligence community ... before any of it was public, that there were derogatory emails being released," Comey said, adding that this caused the FBI to became convinced that the prospect of campaign interference was real.
This also "raised the question of whether any Americans were assisting and conspiring in it," he added.
Sales then asked: "And that was shared with Australia's High Commissioner in London, Alexander Downer? Is that correct? And it came to you via Australian channels?"
Comey was blunt in his reply.
"I can't say that," he said.
Sales then asked: "Is there anything further you can tell us about that meeting?"
"I'm not conceding that it was with Alexander Downer," Comey replied.
ART OF THE DEAL
Mr Comey repeated his claim that President Trump had demanded personal loyalty from the then-FBI head.
He said he expected anyone becoming the President of the United States to know such norms as loyalty to the position, not the man.
"I helped him understand those norms after the first request for loyalty and before the second. So I don't think it's fair to say that he didn't know them," he said.
As for whether the President knew he was demanding something illegal when he allegedly asked Comey to drop the Russian collusion investigation: "If he didn't know it was something he shouldn't be doing, why did he kick everybody out of the room, including my boss?"
Mr Comey said he only discovered he had been fired while he was briefing staff Los Angeles. He looked up and saw - at first - a breaking news ticker on a television saying "Comey resigns". This soon changed to "Comey fired".
He said he told his confused staff: "I don't know whether that's true or not, but whether it's true or not, doesn't change what I need to say to you."
Then, he stepping outside the office to confirm if it was true.
"My reaction was kind of confusion. A slight feeling of sick to my stomach. And deep sadness ... Lots of employers had gathered in that big space and they were standing there and many of them were crying. And I started to get emotional."
AUSTRALIAN RELATIONS 'SOLID'
Comey said the depth of diplomatic and cultural ties between the Australia and one of its closest allies in America will remain during President Trump's time in the White House.
"I know the extent and culture of the relationship between the two countries," Mr Comey said.
"It'd be hard to screw up the relationship between the United States and Australia.
"No one president has enough time to screw it up, because it's so longstanding and so beneficial to both sides."
'NO POINT' IN FIRING ROBERT MUELLER
Comey also touched on the future of Robert Mueller in the interview.
After Comey was fired Mueller, also a former Director of the FBI, was appointed as special prosecutor to probe allegations of Russian interference.
Comey said it would be a waste of time if Trump moved to sack Mueller.
"The practical effect would be almost nil", he said.
"Because somebody will pick it up, and if that person gets fired the next person will pick it up, and so until the buildings are vacant, it wouldn't stop.
"So I think it would be bad for a lot of reasons to fire the special prosecutor here, it would be an attack on the rule of law."
"But it would actually be dumb because it wouldn't be stopping the goal of stopping the investigation."