Comey said he did not know that Carter Page was a CIA asset, something that was kept from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) by an FBI lawyer who pled guilty to manipulating an email.
Kevin Clinesmith admitted to changing the email to say Page was not an asset when a CIA employee had said he was.
“I did not know the nature of his relationship with the CIA,” Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Comey also claimed that, despite the existence of the email attesting to Page’s role as a CIA asset, he still isn’t sure whether Page worked for the intelligence agency.
“I don’t think the record established that he worked with the CIA,” Comey claimed.
Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) challenged that notion, telling him, “We have the email confirming he was a source for the CIA.”
The spy applications made to FISC to spy on Page were riddled with errors and omissions, Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz found. U.S. Attorney John Durham is conducting a criminal probe into the origins of the Crossfire Hurricane.
The warrant applications relied on a dossier put together by ex-British spy Christopher Steele, who was being paid through a third-party by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
While Trump’s current and former associates were being probed for alleged ties to Russia, recently released documents show that Steele’s primary source was a suspected Russian spy.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Russians successfully targeted Steele, “because some Russian disinformation made its way into the Steele dossier.”
Comey denied knowledge that the primary source was under investigation as a potential Russian spy dating back to 2009, that the source told FBI agents that statements attributed to him in the dossier were inaccurate, that the dossier contained Internet rumors, and that the dossier may have included Russian disinformation.
Comey said Crossfire Hurricane was opened on the basis of a warning from an allied nation that Trump’s campaign had dirt on Clinton’s campaign.
The FBI opened the investigation on July 31, 2016, after receiving information from a “Friendly Foreign Government” reporting that, in May of that year, Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos suggested the Trump team had received an offer from Russia that it could assist with an anonymous release of information that would be damaging to Clinton, according to Horowitz.
Comey and Peter Strzok, a top FBI agent, were told on Sept. 7, 2016, about a reported Clinton plan that aimed at using an alleged Trump-Russia connection “as a means of distracting the public from her use of a private mail server,” according to information declassified this week.
“That doesn’t ring bells with me,” Comey said.
Pressed on whether the head of the FBI had a duty to be more aware of such a major probe, Comey later added: “There is a heightened duty of candor, that includes exculpatory information.”
Comey at one point told Graham that he wouldn’t have signed the application to spy on Page if he knew what he knows now.
“No, not without a much fuller discussion about their disclosure obligations to the court,” he said.