Allies of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have come to agree on at least one thing: They both can't stand former FBI Director James Comey.
As Comey starts his “Higher Loyalty” book tour this week, he's facing pushback not just from Trump, who labeled him an “untruthful slimeball,” but also from Democrats who are outraged at Comey’s admission that political optics partially influenced his decision to announce he was reopening the Hillary Clinton email investigation 11 days before the general election.
"All of us were operating in a world where the polls were showing that Donald Trump had no chance," Comey told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in recalling his rationale to the Justice Department. Comey said he was worried that if Clinton won as expected, then the public would later discover he had not revealed the new emails discovered on Anthony Weiner’s computer and it would hurt Clinton's standing, as well as the FBI and the Department of Justice.
“She’ll be an illegitimate president, but these organizations will never recover from that,” he said in explaining his thinking at the time.
But that explanation has just further frustrated veterans of the Clinton campaign who believe Comey’s interference during the 2016 election was decisive, and they're surprised he's admitting that politics affected his decision-making.
“It was not his job to worry about a future President Clinton's legitimacy"
“It was not his job to worry about a future President Clinton's legitimacy. That is a purely political consideration that should never have come into play,” Clinton campaign Press Secretary Brian Fallon told VICE News. “His job was to go by the book and adhere by the Department guidelines and then let the political chips fall where they may."
"Admitting that he let political optics creep into his head was one of his more damning acknowledgments in the interview," he said. "I am not sure he even realizes how bad he sounds admitting that.”
Comey agreed that normal policy called for not commenting on the investigation. “[The Justice Department’s] argument was that it was not consistent with our policy, and that we don't normally comment on investigations, all of which I agree with,” Comey said. But the former FBI director has argued that he had two choices, conceal or disclose, and that concealing would have damaged the reputation of the FBI and the DOJ.
The anger is especially intense for Clinton and some independent analysts who believe Comey's actions played a pivotal role in her defeat. “I believe without the Comey letter, I would have won,” Clinton said last fall.
After the Comey letter, Clinton’s lead in the polls was cut in half and Trump found a political opening that he took advantage of. “Hillary Clinton would probably be president if FBI Director James Comey had not sent a letter to Congress on Oct. 28,” data journalist Nate Silver wrote in a 2016 lookback.
“I wish he had admitted he was wrong in that he allowed this to be an influencing factor”
Comey said that he’s not sure whether his letter affected the election result. “I hope not. I— I don't know. I honestly don't know,” he told ABC News. “I sure hope not. But the honest answer is, it wouldn't change the way I think about it.”
He further tried to shift blame back to the Clinton camp for their murky email practices. “I know this is obvious, but I didn't put the emails on Anthony Weiner's laptop,” Comey said. “I would so much rather Anthony Weiner had never had a laptop. I'd rather never have heard about this situation.”
But some think that Comey was just protecting Comey and is using grand pronouncements of protecting institutions as an excuse to shield himself.
“Many people believe Comey is a straight-shooter. but nothing in his interview explains or justifies his repeated violations of standard procedure,” Joel Benenson, Clinton’s chief strategist, told VICE News. “The man talks about the rule of law repeatedly in the interview, so his answer here is a complete crock.”
Some Clinton allies just wish Comey would admit he made a bad call.
“That Hillary's standing in the polls had any sway or influence over his decision to reopen the investigation into her emails less than two weeks before Election Day (and well after early voting was underway) remains — to say the least — troubling,” Adrienne Elrod, the director of strategic communications for the Clinton campaign, told VICE News. “I wish he had admitted he was wrong in that he allowed this to be an influencing factor,” she added.
Asked what he wishes Comey would say, Benenson echoed Elrod: “I was wrong.”
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Cover image: Former FBI Director James Comey sits down with George Stephanopoulos for an exclusive interview that aired during a primetime "20/20" special April 15, 2018, on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Ralph Alswang/ABC via Getty Images)
This article originally appeared on VICE News US.