SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee tore into former FBI Director James Comey during a Senate committee hearing about his oversight of the Trump-Russia investigation.
“Mr. Comey, with all due respect you don’t seem to know about an investigation that you ran,” the Utah Republican said, his voice rising as he pointed a finger at Comey who appeared via videoconferencing.
“So how can you now as a private citizen and former FBI director show up and speculate freely regarding any alleged ties between President Putin and President Trump?”
Comey replied that came because “I have eyes and ears” and “that’s how it strikes me watching the president in Helsinki take Putin’s side against his own intelligence committee and lots of stuff like that.”
The former FBI director made his first appearance before Congress since a highly critical inspector general report found serious errors in the agency’s requests to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to spy on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
He told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that he would not have certified the surveillance had he known then what he knows now about applications the FBI submitted in 2016 and 2017 to eavesdrop on Page. He told the committee the FBI’s process for conducting surveillance on Page was “sloppy” and “embarrassing.”
Comey has been in the news lately with the Showtime miniseries “The Comey Rule” based on his book “A Higher Loyalty” airing this week. Also, the HBO documentary “Agents of Chaos” examining Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is also airing.
Lee has led the charge to curtail U.S. surveillance powers which he says government officials abused to wrongfully target President Donald Trump during the 2016 election. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was intended to detect and thwart the efforts of agents of other countries, not to go after Americans, he has said.
He said Wednesday that the law needs to be reformed or eliminated. A proposal by him and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to place stricter limitations on federal surveillance powers has not passed Congress.
Lee was among several Republican lawmakers in the hearing who confronted Comey about the Russia investigation.
The senator said he considered Comey a role model who inspired him as a young assistant U.S. attorney during a meeting years before. Lee said Comey assured him the FISA process would not be manipulated as he became FBI director.
“You gave your word, and having established that brief relationship with you all those years earlier, I trusted you,” Lee said. “I have to say today, I’m very disappointed those promises you announced to me seem very insincere.”
In Facebook post after the hearing, Lee said he no longer considers Comey a role model and called his testimony a “disaster.”
Lee said in the hearing that circumstantial evidence suggests there was a political motive behind the investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia. He said some of those involved believed there was no chance they would be caught and that Hillary Clinton was going to win the election.
“Had she won, in all probability none of this would have come to light,” he said before asking Comey how Americans could have confidence in a FISA process that has almost no accountability.
“I am not going to address your long preamble, which I have significant disagreement with,” Comey said. “The American people should always want to know how the government’s power is being used, especially when it’s being used in secret.”
Problem sometimes arise in an ex parte or one-sided process, he said. People should have confidence in the inspector general and Congress demanding answers.
An incredulous Lee replied, “You don’t install a wasp’s nest in your child’s bedroom and then express surprise when the child gets bitten by wasps. You don’t adopt an ex parte process and then express surprise and outrage when it goes completely unsupervised and off the rails.”