Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Sunday that he wants to review a document that then-FBI Director James B. Comey used as the reasoning behind his unusual public closure in July of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified material as secretary of state.
According to a report last week in The Washington Post, Comey believed the document was generated by Russian operatives and designed to create a false appearance that the Justice Department had assured Clinton’s presidential campaign that the investigation into her private email server would not result in criminal charges.
FBI officials cited that document as a factor in Comey’s decision to be the public face in closing the case, including unusual statements deeply critical of Clinton even though she was not facing charges. The fear among FBI officials was that then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch, an appointee of the Obama administration, who had recently had a private meeting with Bill Clinton, would be caught in a compromised situation if she were the one closing the case and then the allegedly fake document was made public.
Graham, who is leading a Senate Judiciary Committee inquiry into Russian cyberattacks on the 2016 presidential election, said it was ‘‘stunning’’ and not something that had been relayed to congressional investigators.
‘‘The FBI director knew that the information he relied upon to jump into the 2016 election was fake, that he basically took over the Department of Justice’s job based on a fake email from the Russians. That, to me, is a stunning story. From a Congress’ point of view, he never told us it was fake. So he needs to be held accountable,’’ Graham said on CNN’s ‘‘State of the Union.’’
Comey’s initial closure of the Clinton case brought outcries from conservatives, including Republicans on congressional oversight committees. The FBI director then promised, in public testimony, to bring to lawmakers’ attention any new developments in the case - and less than two weeks before the Nov. 8 election, Comey sent a controversial letter to Congress notifying lawmakers that FBI investigators were reviewing newly discovered emails to determine whether there was any breach of classified information.
The review quickly ended as nothing new was discovered, but the news rocked the final days of the campaign, leading Clinton to suggest that Comey tipped the election to Donald Trump.
The document contained what the FBI believes was a fake email from Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee last summer, to a liberal activist asserting that Lynch had privately assured a top Clinton campaign official that the investigation would end without fanfare.
Graham said Sunday that even if the emails and documents were false, the matter was of high concern because it demonstrated how sharp the Russian cyberattack effort had been, right down to helping influence FBI decisions in the investigation.
‘‘At the end of the day, if the Russians are this sophisticated, we need more sanctions yesterday against the Russians. Or is, in fact, this a true email? I want to get to the bottom of it. I want to see the email,’’ Graham said.