The former head of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) confronted FBI Director James Comey on Friday during a confidential briefing on Russian hacking that left many Democrats calling for Comey’s scalp, several lawmakers told The Hill.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was forced to resign last summer as head of the DNC amid the hacking scandal, told Comey that he should have come to her directly once the FBI was aware of the breach, just as he had done with other hacking victims.
“You let us down!” one Democrat yelled to Comey during the tense exchange, according to one attendee.
Another Democrat described the scene: “Essentially Debbie asked, how was it that the FBI knew that the DNC was being hacked and they didn’t tell her? He gave some bulls–t explanation, ‘That’s our standard, we called this one, we called that one’ — [she said] ‘Well, why didn’t you call me?’ ”
Wasserman Schultz said in a statement that she won’t discuss conversation in a classified briefing.
“However, the FBI Director must clarify for the American people, the agency’s policies for investigating and alerting those who are hacked by foreign governments. There are further questions that must be answered by Director Comey, who must provide more clarity on this and other questions that have arisen surrounding the FBI’s handling of Russian hacking during the 2016 election cycle,” she said.
The briefers at Friday’s meeting included Comey; James Clapper, the director of national intelligence; CIA director John Brennan; and Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency.
Less than two weeks before the election, Comey had publicly announced a new phase in the FBI’s longstanding investigation into Clinton’s use of personal emails when she headed the State Department. Some Democrats contend the episode delivered the White House to Trump.
In contrast, Comey has declined to say if the agency is investigating potential ties between Trump’s team and the Russian government — a silence he maintained at a Senate hearing earlier this week, and again on Friday despite repeated questions from the Democrats.
Wasserman Schultz’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.
King, an Independent senator from Maine, had characterized Comey’s reticence as “ironic” in light of his public announcement of the Clinton probe.
“Irony is a much more diplomatic word than, I think, many members would use,” Schiff said.
“The American people need to have confidence that the director is ruthlessly apolitical, and there have been substantial questions raised about that,” he added. “I can certainly say that I don’t think these questions have been put to rest, by any means.”
“I was nonjudgmental until the last 15 minutes. I no longer have that confidence in him,” Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, said as he left the meeting.
“Some of the things that were revealed in this classified briefing — my confidence has been shook.”
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) took those criticisms a step further, accusing Comey of a double standard that “without question” makes him unfit to keep the position.
“I have a great belief that the agency is a good agency, [but] I have a stronger belief that James Comey has done this nation a terrible disservice,” he said.
“I hope that Donald Trump fires him,” Hastings said. “More important, he ought to resign.
“There are a lot of Democrats who feel like I do.”
Not all of them, however.
Some Democrats hailed Comey’s work at the FBI, suggesting the Clinton episode was a rare slip in an otherwise stellar career.
“Outside of [the Clinton probe], I have nothing but good things to say about him,” said Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.), a member of the House Intelligence panel.
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said he’s also not calling on Comey to step aside, largely because the opening would force Trump to tap a replacement.
“You know what you got, you don’t know what you’re going to get,” Pascrell said.
“But,” Pascrell quickly added, “he’s got a hell of a lot of explaining to do about his actions from 11 days before the election to two days before the election.
“A lot of explaining.”
When the bureau first contacted the DNC about a nation-state breach of its systems, the tech-support contractor who fielded the call was unsure if the special agent was actually from the FBI or was a prankster. For weeks, the agent continued to call the committee, but did not receive a response.
CrowdStrike president Shawn Henry, a former head of the FBI’s cyber division whose firm investigated the breach on behalf of the DNC, told The New York Times he was shocked the FBI didn’t send an agent to the DNC’s offices directly.
“We are not talking about an office that is in the middle of the woods of Montana,” Henry said. “We are talking about an office that is half a mile from the FBI office that is getting the notification.”
– Updated at 8:46 p.m.