The transcript of former FBI Director James Comey's Friday testimony before the House Judiciary Committee has been redacted and released by lawmakers today. In it, he asserts that the FBI investigation into Russian tampering with the 2016 election began with a focus on four unidentified Americans, and initially did not involve the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. He would not say who the suspects in question were, but he did say that Donald Trump was not one of them.
However, he did say that the four suspects involved all had connections to President Trump, and that the official FBI investigation began in July of 2016, shortly after President Trump had won the Republican nomination. According to that timeline and matching information from the Mueller investigation, that would be long after Russians first contacted President Trump's associates in 2015, after the hack of Democratic email accounts, and after Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos had been told by Russian operatives that they had compromising information on Hillary Clinton through her stolen emails. In fact, Comey said that the initial FBI investigation focused on the London meeting between Papadopoulos and a Russian intermediary.
When asked if the Steele dossier played a role in sparking the investigation into President Trump's campaign, Comey denied it was a factor, as it did not enter into FBI hands until a month or two after the investigation began. Comey did not claim to know much of anything about the Steele dossier, testifying that he never learned of its origins while he was director, didn't know when Steele's relationship with the bureau was terminated, and didn't have any knowledge of subsequent contacts between Bruce Ohr and Steele.
"It was weeks or months later that the so-called Steele dossier came to our attention," Comey said.
Comey testified that while he was director, he was unaware of the anti-Trump text messages between agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who initially were a part of the Mueller investigation team before they were relieved of their duty after Mueller discovered the disparaging conversations.
"To the extent you're asking about communications of Page and Strzok, if I had known about those things that they were communicating that I've seen in [the media], I would not have had them...playing any role in connection with that investigation," Comey said. "The challenge for me is I haven't read all the texts, but based on what I saw -- have seen in the media since I left the FBI, that unless there was some explanation for that that I was missing, in my judgment, they wouldn't have remained part of the investigation."
Comey also mentioned that at the time of his firing, agents had reached no conclusions about possible collusion between President Trump's campaign and Russian interests.
Comey's refusal to answer any questions otherwise related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible collusion frustrated Republican lawmakers, according to Fox News.
"Did we have evidence in July of (2016) that anyone in the Trump campaign conspired to hack the DNC server?" Comey asked rhetorically. "I don't think that the FBI and special counsel want me answering questions that may relate to their investigation of Russian interference during 2016. And I worry that that would cross that line."
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy pressed Comey on the specific cause for the FBI's launching of the counterintelligence investigation into Russian tampering with the election, Comey again refused to answer on the grounds that the information was now part of Mueller's investigation.
Gowdy wasn't satisfied.
"You can't tell us, or you won't tell us?" he asked.
"Probably a combination of both... To the extent I recall facts developed during our investigation of Russian interference and the potential connection of Americans, I think that's a question that the FBI doesn't want me answering. So it's both a can't and a won't," Comey replied, going on to note once again that anything related to the Mueller investigation was "off limits" due to the ongoing nature of the probe.