Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised former FBI Director James Comey's handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails during the 2016 election, comments that stand in stark contrast to Sessions' letter to the White House yesterday calling for Comey to be fired.
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On July 5, 2016, Comey made a public announcement that the FBI was completing its investigation into Clinton's emails and said that the department was not recommending criminal charges against Clinton.
On October 28 of that year, with Election Day drawing close, Comey set off a firestorm when he sent a letter to Congress telling members that he was reopening the investigation into Clinton's email practices on the basis of new evidence, referring to the discovery of emails on a laptop used by Anthony Weiner, who at the time was the husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
Justice Department officials warned Comey against sending that letter, saying that the actions were inconsistent with departmental policy during elections, and Democrats expressed outrage over the timing of his decision.
Sessions, then a senator for the state of Alabama and a surrogate for the Trump campaign, told Lou Dobbs on the FOX Business Network the night of the October letter's release that the FBI director had done his duty.
"[Comey has] done what his duty is, I think," Sessions told anchor Lou Dobbs. "He's got evidence to go forward now with further criminal investigation. He has no other responsibility than to follow that and then tell the American people what he's doing."
Sessions defended Comey again in interview on Fox News’ Sunday Morning Futures on November 6th, 2016, shortly before Comey closed the investigation.
"You know, FBI Director Comey did the right thing when he found new evidence," Sessions told anchor Maria Bartiromo. "He had no choice but to report to the American Congress where he had under oath testified. The investigation was over. He had to correct that and say, this investigation is ongoing now. I'm sure it's significant or else he wouldn't have announced that."
Sessions became attorney general on February 9th, 2017 and was instrumental in Comey's removal yesterday, when Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein sent letters to the White House calling for his firing.
"Based on my evaluation, and for the reasons expressed by the Deputy Attorney General in the attached memorandum, I have concluded that a fresh start is needed at the leadership of the FBI," Sessions wrote in his letter.
Rosenstein faulted Comey for his public comments in July and October on the FBI's investigation into Clinton's emails.
"The Director was wrong to usurp the Attorney General's authority on July 5, 2016, and announce his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution. It is not the function of the Director to make such an announcement," Rosenstein wrote, adding, "Compounding the error, the Director ignored another longstanding principle: we do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation."