SAUSALITO, CALIFORNIA/WASHINGTON – Former FBI Director James Comey said the U.S. remains unprepared for another attack on its elections and faulted the attorney general for suggesting that the government was “spying” on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.
Echoing the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies, Comey said Russia intervened in the 2016 election to damage American democracy, undermine Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and bolster Trump. Russian officials have denied the accusations. But Comey said Trump’s “denial of a fundamental attack” on the U.S. means “we’re inviting it to happen again with our president’s silence.”
The former FBI leader also said he was concerned by Attorney General William Barr’s comments on Wednesday that he’s starting his own inquiry into counterintelligence decisions that may have amounted to political espionage, including actions taken during the Russia probe in 2016.
“I really don’t know what he’s talking about when he talks about spying on the campaign,” Comey said. “The FBI and Department of Justice conduct court-ordered surveillance. If the attorney general has come to the belief that that should be called spying, wow, that’s going to inspire a whole lot of conversations in the Department of Justice.”
Barr told a Senate panel that he wasn’t saying improper spying occurred but that he was going to look into that allegation, which is frequently advanced by Trump and House Republicans. Barr said there was “was probably a failure by a group of leaders there at the upper echelon” of the FBI.
The comments come after Trump renewed his criticism of Comey, whom he fired in 2017 amid the FBI’s probe of Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
On Tuesday, Trump accused Comey of “an attempted coup” as he continued his attacks on the probe that was taken over by Special Counsel Robert Mueller shortly after the then-FBI director was fired.
“Everything about it was crooked, every single thing about it,” Trump said of the Russia investigation on Tuesday. “There were dirty cops. These were bad people. If you look at McCabe and Comey, and you look at Lisa and Peter Strzok, these were bad people. And this was a — an attempted coup. This was an attempted takedown of a president.”
According to Barr, Mueller has said his probe didn’t “exonerate” Trump on the question of whether he obstructed justice in the investigation after finding evidence “on both sides of the question.”
Read More: Barr Says He’s Starting Inquiry Into ‘Spying’ Against Trump.
Comey admitted to what he said were his own shortcomings as head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, saying he wished he had done more to beef up U.S. defenses against cybersecurity threats.
“I failed to push us to the decision point of how do we want to deploy against this threat effectively,” he said. “We failed to do an adequate job of pushing the information flow across the semi-permeable barrier across the government and the private sector. We’re nowhere near where we need to be.”
He also joked about what he would do differently if he could go back to 2013, the year he was sworn in to what was expected to be a 10-year term.
“Going back to 2013?” Comey said. “Can I decline to accept the appointment as FBI director?”