WASHINGTON — Behind closed doors this week, Democratic lawmakers sharply questioned FBI Director James Comey about a letter he sent less than two weeks before the presidential election to Congress informing them about a new review into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Since the briefings on Capitol Hill this week, Democratic lack of confidence in Comey has spilled out, amid scrutiny and turmoil in the intelligence and law enforcement communities.
The Senate briefing was supposed to be on the Russian hacking during the 2016 election, but some senators’ line of questioning focused on an unrelated investigation into Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Clinton's top aide Huma Abedin, and how that led to Comey's decision to send the letter, sources say. One senator in particular — Al Franken of Minnesota — asked tough questions, sources told BuzzFeed News and Politico.
Sources told BuzzFeed News the questioning was on the custody of Weiner's computer, the search warrant and general timeline, and that Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill also did some of the grilling.
Franken has previously called for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on Comey's handling of the Clinton since before the election. His office declined to comment on the senator's questioning.
According to the same sources, who requested anonymity because of the nature of the briefing, Comey seemed to contradict himself, frustrating Democratic senators — many of whom blame Comey's decision to send that letter for Hillary Clinton's loss.
The briefing happened just after the Justice Department's inspector general's office announced an review of Comey's decision to send the letter, among other issues. A Wall Street Journal editorial on Thursday evening also called for the next attorney general to ask for Comey's resignation.
Comey didn't alleviate lawmakers' concerns during a House briefing Friday morning, where both Republicans and Democrats asked similar questions, either.
Several House Democrats came out of the meeting troubled with what they had heard from Comey. "He was asked for some specificity and his answer, I think, eroded any level of confidence in his ability to deal with this matter," said Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego, one of those Democrats.
Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former head of Democratic National Committee, also confronted Comey during the briefing, saying he didn't immediately notify the DNC of the hack, The Hill reported.
And Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings told reporters he had initially been "willing to give [Comey] the benefit of the doubt" regarding his decision to send the letter so close to the election.
"But there's been a lot that has happened since then and today I must tell you that when I left the hearing I felt a great sense of disappointment."
"Before, there was no jury in my mind," Cummings said. "Now there is a jury in my mind, and the jury is out."
The FBI declined to comment.
Paul McLeod and Alexis Levinson contributed reporting,
Tarini Parti is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Tarini Parti at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.