FBI Director James B. Comey played a major role in the final days of the presidential election. It remains to be seen if he will play a role in President-elect Donald Trump’s administration.
Trump, in an interview broadcast over the weekend, said that he wants to meet with Comey before deciding whether he will ask him to step down.
“I would rather not comment on that yet,” Trump said in a “60 Minutes” interview aired Sunday night. “I don’t — I haven’t made up my mind. I respect him a lot. I respect the FBI a lot.”
Trump also suggested that he would only make a determination after hearing from Comey, who he regularly criticized during the campaign over the bureau’s actions during an investigation into Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent, and her use of a private email server.
“I’m not sure,” Trump said in the interview. “I’d wanna see, you know, he may have had very good reasons for doing what he did.”
During the acrid presidential campaign, Comey and the FBI repeatedly took center stage due to the email server investigation. Trump’s tone on Comey tended to shift along with the FBI’s stance on Clinton and the probe. When Comey announced in July that “no reasonable prosecutor” would charge Clinton for mishandling classified information, Trump assailed the bureau and suggested that the FBI director was corrupt.
“He made a mistake, or whatever,” Trump told ABC News at one point. “I don’t even call it a mistake. I think something happened.”
In October, Trump said the FBI and the Justice Department “rolled over.” That same day, Comey wrote a letter to lawmakers alerting them that the bureau had resumed its work to review another collection of emails. Trump shifted his tune, saying that he had “great respect for the FBI” for its sudden action and saying that Comey’s letter “took a lot of guts.”
“He brought back his reputation,” Trump said of Comey. “He brought it back.”
Two days before the election, Comey announced that the bureau’s review of the emails did not change its decision not to recommend charges against Clinton. The next day, Trump again claimed the system was “rigged,” citing as proof the bureau’s relatively prompt examination of the emails.
Clinton, speaking to top donors on Saturday, blamed the two Comey letters for her surprising loss on Election Day.
Trump would enter the White House having an awkward relationship with Comey, who he has never met.
Comey is in the third year of a 10-year term that began in September 2013. Unlike the attorney general, who oversees the Justice Department, the FBI director does not change when a new administration comes to town.
Officials close to Comey have previously told The Post that he has no plans to leave, despite the barrage of criticism he faced over his decisions on the Clinton probe.
However, presidents are allowed to remove an FBI director, something that rarely happens out of respect for the position’s independence. In 1993, then-president Bill Clinton, halfway through his first year in office, fired William S. Sessions as FBI director amid allegations of ethical issues.
It is unclear if a meeting between Trump and Comey has been scheduled or when it would take place. A spokesman for the FBI declined to comment, referring questions to the Trump transition team, and a spokeswoman for Trump did not respond to a request for comment.
During the “60 Minutes” interview, one of Trump’s few public appearances since his victory last week, he also noted that there have been a number of leaks from the FBI. Internal tension at the bureau spilled into the public view in recent weeks, with reporters publishing stories about a feud over the Clinton Foundation and about top Justice Department officials advising against Comey’s decision to send his first letter to Congress.
“There’s been a lotta leaking, there’s no question about that,” he said. “But I would certainly like to talk to him. And see him. This is a tough time for him.”
During a presidential debate, Trump said that if he won the election, he would have a special prosecutor appointed to look into Clinton’s use of an email server, an extraordinary suggestion that he would pursue criminal charges against a political opponent. Since winning, Trump and Kellyanne Conway, who served as his campaign manager, have not ruled out the idea.
The president-elect could take steps to have a special prosecutor appointed, although prominent conservatives have advised against it and said it would be an alarming politicization of the Justice Department.
Trump told “60 Minutes” that Clinton’s phone call conceding the election was “lovely,” and in the same interview called her “very strong and very smart,” a sharp departure from the “Crooked Hillary” nickname he used and “Lock her up!” chants he encouraged at rallies.
When asked if he was going to seek a special prosecutor, Trump did not abandon the idea, saying that he was “going to think about it.”
He went on to say Clinton “did some bad things,” but added: “I don’t want to hurt them. I don’t want to hurt them. They’re, they’re good people. I don’t want to hurt them.” Trump also promised to give a “definitive answer” the next time he spoke to “60 Minutes.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Mark Berman