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A year of fact-checking about James Comey, Clinton emails and Russia

Lauren Carroll
By Lauren Carroll May 10, 2017

James Comey is out as FBI director.

President Donald Trump fired Comey May 9, amid an ongoing FBI investigation into Trump associates’ ties to Russia and after an election season colored by the agency’s probe into Hillary Clinton’s email.

Trump acted on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the newly appointed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who issued a scathing memo criticizing Comey’s decision to publicly announce the conclusion of the Clinton email investigation last July.

"While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau," Trump wrote in a letter to Comey.

Given the intense public debate about the Clinton and Russia investigations, Comey has appeared prominently in our fact-checks over the past year.

Here’s a recap.

The July press conference on Clinton emails

Comey broke with agency tradition when he decided to hold his July 2016 press conference regarding the FBI’s findings in the Clinton email probe, at the height of Clinton’s bid for the White House. He said the FBI didn’t recommend prosecution but called her email setup "extremely careless."

Comey’s comments tore holes in Clinton’s email defense, showing that her claim that she never sent or received classified material was False. And the FBI findings also demonstrated Clinton didn’t turn over all her work-related emails to the State Department, as she had previously said.

As Trump quoted from Comey’s bitings remarks on the campaign trail, Clinton tried to spin them in her favor.

In a Pants on Fire-wrong claim, Clinton credited Comey for saying her comments about her email were "truthful." He never said that. In reality, his testimony highlighted significant problems with Clinton’s public statements.

The October letter

Several months later — and two weeks before the election — Comey again drew criticism for publicly discussing an FBI investigation, particularly one with political implications.

He sent a letter to Congress saying agents discovered a new cache of Clinton emails on a laptop belonging to former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., who was married (now separated) to senior Clinton aide Huma Abedin.

But then on Nov. 6 — two days before the election — the FBI announced that there was nothing new in this email batch.

We found that there are Justice Department policies against interfering with elections, including being sensitive about releasing information regarding active investigations. But some Democrats overstepped in saying Comey may have violated the Hatch Act, a relatively obscure law governing political engagement by federal employees.

Clinton recently blamed her loss in part on Comey’s October letter to Congress. At the time, she griped, wrongly, that Comey only sent the letter to Republicans members.

Turn to Russia

After Clinton lost and Trump took office, public attention turned to the FBI’s other election-related investigation about Russia.

Trump has deflected reports about his and his associates’ possible ties to Russia and Russia’s interference in the election.

After Comey testified on Capitol Hill March 20, Trump falsely tweeted, "The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process."

At the hearing, Comey repeatedly demonstrated that he believes Russia interfered in the election and specifically declined to say whether he thinks that influenced the election in any way.

Trump has also leaned on Comey’s earlier congressional testimony to support his Mostly True claim that the Russians tried but were unable to hack the Republican National Committee.

Trump revived Clinton-related criticism of the now former FBI director on May 2, a week before Comey’s dismissal.

Trump tweeted, "FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds! The phony…"

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A year of fact-checking about James Comey, Clinton emails and Russia