Comey explains why he revealed information about a new batch of Clinton emails while keeping secret the investigation into Trumps Russia links

FBI director James Comey on Wednesday described Russia as the greatest threat to US democracy, but defended his decision to keep secret an investigation into the Trump campaigns links to Moscow despite uncovering details of an inquiry into Hillary Clintons handling of classified emails.

Giving evidence to a hearing of the Senate judiciary committee, Comey offered his most extensive explanation to date of the reasoning behind his different approaches to the two investigations.

Clinton claimed on Tuesday that Comeys 28 October letter to leading each member of Congress about new emails that had been found injury voter perceptions of her and cost her the election.

If the election had been on 27 October, I would be your chairwoman, the former Democratic presidential candidate said.

The discovery of the emails ultimately induced no difference to the FBI decision not to press charges over the use of the private server.

Asked about Clintons claim that his letter could have sway the vote, Comey said: This was terrible. It constructs me mildly nauseous to think we might have had some impact on the election. But candidly, I wouldnt change the decision.

The FBI director said that the discovery in October of a new batch categorized emails put him in a near impossible dilemma. He said he had to make a choice between speak or conceal: to speak would have been really bad, he said; to conceal would have been catastrophic. So he chose to speak out.

One of my junior lawyers asked me: should be used consider what you do might help elect Trump as chairman? I told: not for a moment, Comey said, arguing that political considerations should never be a factor in such decisions.

Trump responded to Clintons comments on Tuesday with a tweet claiming: FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds! an apparent reference to the bureaus discovering that there was nothing to prosecute in the emails case.

Asked about the criticism on Wednesday, the White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, told journalists: The chairman has confidence in the director.

He was asked repeatedly about the contrast between his decision to break silence on the Clinton email case while disguising the existence of a counter-intelligence investigation into the Trump campaigns the relations with Russian officials during the election.

Comey said that when he first spoke about the Clinton case, in July 2016, he did so because the investigation had been closed , no charges had been induced, and he felt that if the Department of Justice in the Obama administration stimulated the proclamation it would lose credibility. The discovery of more emails in October might have changed that decision and represented an important developing, he added.

The Trump-Russia counter-intelligence investigation, he argued, was highly classified and was in its very early stages by the time of the election.

He confirmed that the inquiry was continuing, and concurred when asked whether it was fair to say that Russia is still involved in American politics. He ran further, describing Russia as the greatest threat of any nation on earth, given their purpose and their capability to US democracy.

Asked about Comeys claim that the Russian government is still involved in US politics, Spicer responded: I think thats the view of the FBI. We rely on them and the rest of the intelligence community to offer the president with updates on what theyre learning.

At his hearing, Comey was peppered with questions about leaks about FBI investigations, and repeatedly stated he could neither corroborate or deny.

He induced one exception, however. Asked about contacts between FBI staff and Rudy Giuliani, a former New York mayor and current Trump aide, he said: I dont know yet, but its a matter Im very, very interested in.

Comey described in detail the process of detecting Clintons emails on the laptop of Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin.

He said that somehow Clintons emails were being forwarded to Anthony Weiner, including classified information, by her assistant Huma Abedin. Weiner was being investigated over an alleged online relationship with a teenage girl.

Republican Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the committee, said that the publics faith in the committee had been tested lately. Grassley is pressing for answers about the FBIs investigation into potential is coordinating the Trump campaign and Russia.

Comey disclosed the existence of that investigation when he witnessed at a congressional hearing in March.

Comey also mounted a strong defence of section 702 of the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008, which allows the NSA to use the Prism program to collect internet communications. And he claimed that half the FBIs work was now affected by encryption on users phones or other devices.

Read more: www.theguardian.com