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Comey Attributes FISA Abuses to ‘Sloppiness,’ Distances Himself from Russia Probe

James Comey speaks to the media after giving a private deposition on Capitol Hill, December 7, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

James Comey maintained that the FISA process abuses detailed in Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s Monday report were the result of “sloppiness” in a Sunday morning interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, and claimed that, although he signed off on the initial FISA application and subsequent renewals, he was not made aware of the details of the probe as director.

Comey began the interview by knocking down the more extreme claims made by Trump and his partisans in advance of the report, namely that the former FBI director and his staff targeted the Trump campaign for political reasons and committed criminal acts in doing so. Citing Horowitz’s report, which found that the investigation was properly predicated, Comey said that Trump’s claims of treason and other criminal activity were “nonsense.”

He then attributed the 17 “significant errors or omissions” in the FISA application to surveil Trump-campaign adviser Carter Page to good faith errors that he was not made aware of in his position as director of the bureau.

“He also found things we were never accused of, which is real sloppiness, and that’s concerning. As I’ve said all along has to be focused on. If I were director, I’d be very concerned about it and diving into it,” Comey said. “He is right, I was wrong. I was overconfident in the procedures that the FBI and Justice have built over 20 years years. I thought they were robust enough. It’s incredibly hard to get a FISA. I was overconfident in those because he’s right, there was real sloppiness.”

Wallace pushed back, calling “sloppiness” a “euphemism” for missteps that might be more readily attributed to malice against the Trump campaign. Horowitz’s report found that the FBI failed to inform the FISA court about the partisan origins of the Steele dossier and failed to independently corroborate many of the claims in the report, among other omissions. Wallace went on to press Comey on how familiar he was with those omissions when he signed off on the FISA warrant.

“As the director you’re not kept informed on the details of an investigation. So no, in general I didn’t know what they’d learned from the sub-source, I didn’t know the particulars of the investigation,” Comey said, referencing Horowitz’s conclusion that one of the sub-sources for British spy Christopher Steele told the FBI that Steele was exaggerating his findings before the FBI applied to renew the FISA warrant.

Wallace dismissed Comey’s attempt at plausible deniability, arguing that he must have been particularly attentive to the Russia probe given its prominent target.

“But this isn’t some investigation, sir. This is an investigation of the campaign of the man who is the president of the United States,” Wallace said. “You had just been through a firestorm investigating Hillary Clinton. I would think if I had been in your position I would have been on that like a junk yard dog.”

Comey responded by arguing that he had too much on his plate as director to concern himself with the minutiae of one investigation.

“That’s not the way it works, though. As a director sitting on top of an organization with 38,000 people, you can’t run an investigation that’s seven layers below you,” he said. “You have to leave it to the career professionals to do…If a director tries to run an investigation, it can get mucked up in other kinds of ways given his or her responsibilities and the impossibility of reaching the work being done at the lower levels.”

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