Former FBI director James B. Comey said Thursday that he feels “conflicted” about news of a criminal referral against his onetime deputy, Andrew McCabe.

“I like him very much, as a person,” Comey said of McCabe during an interview on CNN, “but sometimes even good people do things that they shouldn’t do.”

The Justice Department inspector general concluded in a February report that McCabe repeatedly misled investigators who were examining a leak to the press. The Washington Post and other news outlets reported Thursday that the finding has been referred to the top federal prosecutor in Washington.

“What’s gone on so far has been the accountability mechanisms of the department working because it’s a department that’s committed to the truth,” Comey said. “I don’t know whether there’s a criminal referral,” he added, noting that he has no independent knowledge of what was reported in the press, “but that’s part of accountability — an examination of what the consequences should be if there was material lying.”

That’s a pretty coldblooded take on McCabe’s situation. Yet it is not entirely surprising because Comey’s own credibility is also at stake.

As I wrote when Comey began his gantlet of media interviews on Sunday, McCabe’s media disclosure — and what Comey did or did not know about it — was one major area where Comey’s honesty was sure to be questioned.

In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in May, shortly before Comey’s firing, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) probed Comey about leaks to the press:

GRASSLEY: Director Comey, have you ever been an anonymous source in news reports about matters relating to the Trump investigation or the [Hillary] Clinton investigation?

COMEY: Never.

GRASSLEY: Question two, relatively related: Have you ever authorized someone else at the FBI to be an anonymous source in news reports about the Trump investigation or the Clinton investigation?


Comey’s responses appear to be at least somewhat inconsistent with a statement that McCabe issued last month after his own firing, which the Justice Department attributed in part to “an unauthorized disclosure to the news media.”

The disclosure, part of a Wall Street Journal report about FBI investigations into Clinton’s family foundation and private email use as secretary of state, occurred in October 2016 — seven months before Comey’s exchange with Grassley. According to McCabe, the disclosure “was not a secret, it took place over several days, and others, including the director, were aware of the interaction with the reporter.”

Comey had some explaining to do.

He could have argued that being aware of an anonymous source is not the same as authorizing someone to be an anonymous source or being an anonymous source. Instead, Comey disputed McCabe’s account. He told the inspector general that McCabe “definitely did not tell me that he authorized” the disclosure.

“I have a strong impression he conveyed to me, ‘It wasn’t me, boss,’” Comey told the inspector general.

What Comey conveyed in his remarks to CNN is that he told the truth when he testified to Congress last year.