Matthew Axelrod, a former high-ranking Justice Department aide, told the IG that former FBI Chief of Staff James Rybicki told him: “The Director believes that Congress has, now has a misimpression and so it’s the Director’s you know, butt on the line. And he needs to do this. And you know, and if he doesn’t, you know, the concern [is] it’s not survivable for him.” Asked what he thought that meant, Axelrod said, “Afterwards when it comes out that [the] Bureau had this information but kept it quiet that there would be calls for his resignation that he wouldn’t be able to survive.”
Rybicki told the IG “that he did not ‘remember using that language,’” and current FBI Deputy Director James Bowdich similarly said that “he did not recall Comey making that comment,” telling investigators that “I remember him pointing and saying I am going to suffer personally from this as well. But he felt it was the right decision to make.”
Comey, for his part, told the IG “that he did not remember expressing his concerns in terms of survivability, but added, ‘I’m sure I said something like, if I chose conceal over speak, I ought to be fired, I ought to be hung out, I would be run out of town because of the damage it will have brought to this. I’m sure I said things like that.’” A request for comment was not immediately returned.
However, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch told investigators that she recalled Axelrod contemporaneously informing her that Comey “was concerned that if, if in fact he did not provide this information to Congress, and either it was leaked or later on we discussed it in some Department-approved way, that it was not survivable. And that was the phrase that was given to us.” Lynch’s deputy Sally Yates also told investigators that “she remembered ‘being told that FBI doesn’t think it’s survivable for the Director for him not to’ notify Congress. Yates stated that one of the reasons that the FBI ‘gave for why they felt like [Comey] had to go to Congress is that they felt confident that the New York Field Office would leak it and that it would come out regardless of whether he advised Congress or not.’”
These accounts suggest a divide in recollections. Department of Justice officials seem to recall fairly clearly being informed that Comey was concerned about his own “survivability” should Congress discover that the FBI reopened the Clinton investigation without disclosing that they had done so. FBI officials close to Comey told the IG that they didn’t remember Comey saying that.
But the account offered by James Baker, the former FBI chief counsel and a close adviser to Comey, breaks that pattern. Baker told investigators that “I think [Comey] may have said like I could be impeached” or “something along those lines.” Asked to elaborate, Baker said that at some point during the discussions over how the handle the Clinton email inquiry “he raised, I don’t remember the context exactly. He raised the issue of, you know, potentially he could get impeached for this if he doesn’t tell them this.” Congress has the power to remove officials by means of impeachment and trial; some members of the Republican majorities were quite vocal, during the 2016 campaign, in their criticisms of Comey’s handling of the Clinton probe.