On March 20, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey appeared before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence at a public hearing related to the Russian active measures investigation. The following is his prepared statement.
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Schiff, members of the committee, thank you for including me in today’s hearing. I’m honored to be here representing the people of the FBI.
I hope we have shown you through our actions and our words how much we at the FBI value your oversight of our work and how much we respect your responsibility to investigate those things that are important to the American people. Thank you for showing that both are being taken very seriously.
As you know, our practice is not to confirm the existence of ongoing investigations, especially those investigations that involve classified matters, but in unusual circumstances where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so as Justice Department policies recognize. This is one of those circumstances.
I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.
Because it is an open, ongoing investigation and is classified, I cannot say more about what we are doing and whose conduct we are examining. At the request of congressional leaders, we have taken the extraordinary step in coordination with the Department of Justice of briefing this Congress’ leaders, including the leaders of this committee, in a classified setting in detail about the investigation, but I can’t go into those details here.
I know that is extremely frustrating to some folks. But it is the way it has to be for reasons that I hope you and the American people can understand. The FBI is very careful in how we handle information about our cases and about the people we are investigating. We are also very careful about the way we handle information that may be of interest to our foreign adversaries. Both of those interests are at issue in a counterintelligence investigation. Please don’t draw any conclusions from the fact that I may not be able to comment on certain topics. I know speculating is part of human nature, but it really isn’t fair to draw conclusions simply because I say that I can’t comment.
Some folks may want to make comparisons to past instances where the Department of Justice and the FBI have spoken about the details of some investigations, but please keep in mind that those involved the details of completed investigations. Our ability to share details with the Congress and the American people is limited when those investigations are still open, which I hope makes sense. We need to protect people’s privacy. We need to make sure we don’t give other people clues as to where we’re going. We need to make sure that we don’t give information to our foreign adversaries about what we know or don’t know. We just cannot do our work well or fairly if we start talking about it while we’re doing it. So we will try very, very hard to avoid that, as we always do.
This work is very complex and there is no way for me to give you a timetable as to when it will be done. We approach this work in an open-minded, independent way and our expert investigators will conclude that work as quickly as they can, but they will always do it well no matter how long that takes. I can promise you, we will follow the facts wherever they lead. And I want to underscore something my friend Mike Rogers said—leaks of classified information are serious, serious federal crimes for a reason. They should be investigated and, where possible, prosecuted in a way that reflects that seriousness so that people understand it simply cannot be tolerated.
And I look forward to taking your questions.