Apr 15, 2018, 10:22 PM ET

Comey says everyone – himself included – thought Clinton would win 2016 election


James Comey was operating under the assumption that Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump in the 2016 election – and he wasn’t the only who thought Clinton was a shoe-in, he said in an exclusive interview with ABC News.

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Beyond that, he says that the assumption of a Clinton victory “must have” influenced his actions in the email investigation, though he says not consciously.

Comey told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos that he believes former President Barack Obama, possibly Russian President Vladimir Putin and even Trump, then the Republican nominee thought Clinton was going to win, too.

“I was surprised that Donald Trump was elected president, as I think most -- maybe Donald Trump was too, but as a whole lotta people were,” Comey said.

PHOTO: A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James ComeyFlatiron Books
A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey

Comey, who is promoting his book “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” gave an example of an interaction he had with Obama that led him to believe they were on the same page.

“I heard the president [Obama] say, as I recount in the book, ‘Putin backed the wrong horse.’ That is, all of us were operating in a world where the polls were showing that Donald Trump had no chance,” Comey said.

Obama’s remark was made in relation to when and if the intelligence community and the White House should go public with their findings about Russian interference in the election.

“I think what the president meant by that was the Russian effort is wasted, and so why should we help them by announcing what they're doing when their work is not gonna achieve their goal?” Comey said.

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia, July 8, 2016. Matt Rourke/AP Photo, FILE
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia, July 8, 2016.

Stephanopoulos pointed to the line of thinking that such an announcement would give people a reason to question the outcome of the election.

“Right,” Comey said. “Donald Trump was already saying, ‘If I lose, that means the system is rigged.’ And so if the Obama administration comes out saying, ‘The Russians are trying to help elect Donald Trump,’ that walks right into his narrative that's, ‘See, I told ya,’ that the whole system is fixed and you can't trust the American democratic process. And the Russians would have accomplished their goal.”

In the lead up to the election, Comey was around Clinton supporters in his own home, too, saying that in addition to his wife, Patrice, “at least my four daughters, probably all five of my kids, wanted Hillary Clinton to be the first woman president.”

“There was a lotta passion in this house for Hillary Clinton. And … I get that. But again, I hope it illustrates to people that I really wasn't making decisions based on political fortunes,” he said, in reference to criticism from Democrats that his public announcements as then director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s handling of emails may have cost her the election.

Comey said in testimony on Capitol Hill in 2016 that he had been a registered Republican for most of his adult life but wasn’t any longer. He told Stephanopoulos he did not vote in the election later that year.

“I'm the director of the FBI,” he said during the Capitol Hill appearance. “I'm trying to be outside of politics so [I] intentionally tried not to follow it a lot. And that I shouldn't be choosing between the candidates. I'm trying to lead an institution that should be separate and other.”

How his assumption of a Clinton victory may have impacted his actions

Comey said some of his actions in connection to the email investigation “must have been” influenced, though not consciously, by his assumption that she was going to win the election.

“I don't remember consciously thinking about that, but it must have been ‘cause I was operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was gonna beat Donald Trump. And so I'm sure that it was a factor. Like I said, I don't remember spelling it out, but it had to have been. That she's gonna be elected president, and if I hide this from the American people, she'll be illegitimate the moment she's elected, the moment this comes out,” he told Stephanopoulos.

PHOTO: FBI Director James Comey makes a statement regarding Hillary Clintons emails at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C., July 5, 2016.Cliff Owen/AP Photo
FBI Director James Comey makes a statement regarding Hillary Clinton's emails at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C., July 5, 2016.

Still, Comey said the same thinking did not apply in his decision to keep private until months after the election the fact that the FBI was investigating interactions between a “small number of Americans” from the Trump campaign and Russians.

And he said the decision was a no-brainer.

“That was actually not a hard call, given the sensitivity of the matter and that it was ongoing. We didn't wanna tip anybody off,” he said.

“With respect to the decision by President Obama, as to how to talk about the Russian interference with the American people… he was clearly thinking, ‘I don't want to, given that Trump's gonna lose … look like I'm putting my finger on the scale,’” Comey said.

What Comey has to say to Clinton

In her book, Clinton said that she “felt I’d been shivved” by Comey “three times over the final five months of the campaign.”

When Stephanopoulos asked Comey how he’d respond to Clinton’s assertion that she would be president if not for the Oct. 28 release of a letter in which he announced that the FBI would be looking into more emails, this time from former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s computer, Comey replied: “I hope not.”

PHOTO: Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talks with members of her staff aboard her campaign plane at Westchester County Airport, Nov. 4, 2016 in White Plains, New York. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talks with members of her staff aboard her campaign plane at Westchester County Airport, Nov. 4, 2016 in White Plains, New York.

“But the honest answer is, it wouldn’t change the way I think about it,” he added.

To those like Clinton who argue that there was a double standard with Comey’s revelations – since he disclosed a great deal of information about the investigation into Clinton’s emails but did not immediately release information about the probe into some members of Trump’s team and their alleged contacts with Russians -- he believes the differences in actions stem from differences in the cases.

“The Clinton email case … was public, and we were actually investigating the candidate herself; and the counterintelligence investigations trying to figure out whether a small group of people, not Donald Trump -- we were not investigating Donald Trump,” he said.

“I get the initial reaction. It seems inconsistent,” Comey acknowledged. “But if you take the time and look at the posture of the two cases, they're very, very different. And actually illustrate the rule that we're following.”

News - Comey says everyone – himself included – thought Clinton would win 2016 election

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  • Stephen French

    Amazing that Putin was able to pull the wool over everyone's eyes, and using only a few hundred thousand dollars, get Trump elected. By golly, that Putin must be the best politician on the planet; it seems that only he knew Trump would be elected. But wait, perhaps Putin also "knew" Clinton would be elected and was only trying to diminish her effectiveness once in office? In that case, spending a few hundred thousand would be sensible: and since America helps or hurts candidates world wide ... .

  • Robert Earnest

    Quite frankly I think Comey was and is out to get both Trump and Clinton.

  • Herb Eaversmells

    To this day, I still LOVE LOVE LOVE to watch the You-tube videos of all the liberals crying on Election Night!!!!

    It truly is the gift that keeps giving!!!

  • anastasiabeaverhousen

    "...and he wasn’t the only who thought Clinton was a shoe-in..."

    On the other hand, the more literate among us assumed she was a shoo-in.

  • Lilium Inter Spinas

    I've never trusted the legitimacy of Trump's "victory," and this is why. No one should be able to LOSE the "popular vote" and still be installed under a technicality. That's not democracy at all!

    Comey should be thrown in prison for his interference. The Trump campaign was ALSO "under investigation," but nothing in his (imaginary) ethics compelled him to let the American public know about that until after it was too late.

  • Niltsi

    Well duh! Your boss Lynch certainly thought Clinton was going to win too. That's why you guys were so lenient on her. Can't be mean to the new boss. That would be bad form.

  • End of Life Ritual

    This was one thing that didn't make sense. Comey said he was trying to keep the FBI out of politics but then turns around and says he was making decisions based on an assumption Hillary would win. Doesn't track well.

  • j-m

    basically, they thought/knew hrc would win and dt had no chance. They wanted to legitimize hrc victory with the the hail mary play to throw all doubt out the window of a rigged election all while sitting back and waiting for the election results to roll in before deciding when and if they were ever going to tell us the extent of russian meddling, curious

  • ItsOnlyaFleshWound

    Maybe Comey should have entitled his memoirs: "What Happened: Part II"
    OR "Another Bureaucrat Covering His Behind"

  • hopesprings52

    Comey is the nation's top prosecutor. He should have followed government protocols in the Clinton matter. Protocols dictated that his July statement to the press and his election eve statement that he was reopening the investigation were not appropriate and ill-advised. There is no question that Trump fired him to obstruct and derail the probe into Russia and the Trump mob. But Rosenstein was right - his behavior on the Clinton emails was not proper.

  • Trudy Hill

    "Obama said Putin backed the wrong horse" after Hilary won....to me that means Putin backed Hilary and she lost. Why would he say that if Trump won ? And I think that says a lot.

  • srichey321

    I voted democrat and was shocked that Trump one. Lets be honest, the Democratic Party is the biggest reason a guy like Trump won, but they don't want to accept it and get their own house in order.

  • Fo Gordon

    He is old enough to know that you never know what could happen on any given Sunday ! He had an open investigation on the Trump team. As it happened tRump won and from day one his presidency has been illegitimate. Thanks for nothing. The fact remains that you helped a traitor get elected .

  • Major Remington

    Comey did more damage to the Dems than to Trump. He's just another bitter loser.

  • CaptnBlynd

    They gamed the system for so long that they accepted their lies as truth. Then it blew up in their faces when it turned out that many do not believe.

    The only reason Donald Trump is President Trump is because he ran against Mrs Clinton. Polar opposite platforms and equally despised. Comeys actions were just a part of the game. Now he will make money telling the story of when he gamed and lost.

  • Jjtripp

    Evidently not everybody thought that she would win you traitor

  • Dave R

    Everyone thought she would win? Not so much - Sincerely, the Electoral College.

  • OK

    And that is why you did not do your job, you didn't want to rub your new boss wrong. Weak and more an excuse to be fired.

  • wilmers13

    They could have asked me here in Australia. I thought Trump had a good chance of being elected.

    1. The 'never Trump' movement would have caused people to say 'who are you to tell me?' Resistance builds and causes change of minds plus giving the wrong answer to the pollsters.

    2. Trump foreshadowed domestic policies that appealed to people. It was unknown who votes for candidates with foreign policies in mind or for domestic policies. It seemed to me there was preference to the latter - in the right places for the electoral college.

  • mountainlady

    She might have won if the Russians had stayed out of it. They knew a strong leader when they saw one and they didn't want to face her. They wanted to deal with little Donnie instead.

  • Shirley Parrish

    I do believe trump is tell the truth the FBI is lieding because of Hillary. I believe she's guilty their are paying the FBI big bucks TO LIE ON TRUMP .. they are taking and trying to destroy trump I believe Hillary and all of them is in on it.. So please Leave Trump alone. Enough isn't enough. I know with all my heart the FBI was setting there not tell the TRUTH. We love you TRUMP. KEEP THE GOOD WORK UP

  • Rocketmissile

    They all thought the Soros fix was in. It wasn't! The Globalist-Bankster Cabal was trying to steal the election. They were thwarted by the good guys.

  • Skippy3504

    Didn't a Strzok/Page text mention something about them not wanting to be too tough on Hillary during the investigation because they feared a possible backlash from her if she won?

  • RoB68

    Legal decisions should not be made through the prism of political discretion, presumption or expediency.