During a hearing with the House Judiciary Committee on Friday, former FBI Director James Comey cast doubt on the idea that President Donald Trump would have committed a crime if he somehow colluded with the Russian government.
Comey’s comments came at the end of a long investigation — and near-constant coverage from many media outlets — that has yet to produce evidence that Trump’s presidential campaign knowingly “colluded” with Russia.
As Townhall noted, the hearing’s transcript revealed that Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) asked Comey about the “collusion” term used by media outlets.
“Some of our friends in the media use the word ‘collusion’ from time to time. What is the crime of collusion?” Gowdy asked.
In response, Comey indicated that he was unaware of any crime associated with collusion:
“What is the crime of collusion? I do not know. I’ve never heard the term ‘collusion’ used in the way it’s been used in our world over the last couple years before that. I don’t know of a crime that involves collusion. I think in terms of conspiracy or aiding and abetting.”
At another point during Comey’s testimony, Gowdy asked him to explain the difference between collusion and conspiracy. Comey, in response, said he didn’t know because he hadn’t heard the term “collusion” during his time at the Justice Department.
“I don’t know because I don’t know what collusion means,” he said. “It’s a term I haven’t heard in my career in the Justice Department, so I don’t know.”
Later in his testimony, however, he did say that conspiring with Russians or aiding and abetting Russians would form a legitimate basis for pursuing a federal investigation.
Collusion suspicions seemed to stem from a number of events during the presidential campaign — in particular when WikiLeaks hacked the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the emails of Hillary Clinton’s former campaign chairman.
When Gowdy asked Comey about this, the former FBI director wouldn’t say whether accessing the emails was a crime, nor would he say whether the FBI had evidence of the Trump campaign conspiring to hack the DNC.
GOWDY: Let’s assume that collusion and conspiracy are synonyms, and we’ll just use the word “conspiracy” because the word “collusion,” despite its nonstop use, has no criminal consequences. Would it be a crime to access the DNC server or Podesta’s email without permission or in an unlawful way?
COMEY: That’s a hard one to answer in the abstract. It’s potentially a crime whenever someone either, without authorization, enters a computer system or conspires to enter a computer system without authorization.
GOWDY: Did the FBI, in July of 2016, have any evidence anyone in the Trump campaign conspired to hack the DNC server?
COMEY: Did we have evidence in July of ’16 that anyone in the Trump campaign conspired to hack the DNC server? The challenge in answering that is — and please don’t take this nonanswer to imply that there is such information. I just — I don’t think that the FBI and special counsel want me answering questions that may relate to their investigation of Russian interference during 2016. And I worry that that would cross that line, Mr. Gowdy.
Comey also said that collusion wouldn’t be a legitimate basis for an investigation.
“Because it’s not a thing in the criminal statutes, that I understand at least,” Comey said. “It would be investigating where anyone conspired with the Russians or aided and abetted the Russians.”