Former FBI Director James Comey on Wednesday said it didn’t “ring a bell” when asked whether he received an investigative referral on Hillary Clinton purportedly approving “a plan” attempting to tie President Donald Trump to Russia and distract from her email scandal before the 2016 election.
During his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Chairman Lindsey Graham asked Comey about the newly declassified information released Tuesday by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe.
According to the declassified information, in September 2016, U.S. intelligence officials forwarded an investigative referral on Clinton purportedly approving “a plan concerning U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian hackers hampering U.S. elections” in order to distract the public from her email scandal. That referral was sent to Comey and Deputy Assistant Director of Counterintelligence Peter Strzok.
“You don’t remember getting an investigatory lead from the intelligence community? Sept. 7, 2016, U.S. intelligence officials forwarded an investigative referral to James Comey and Strzok regarding Clinton’s approval of a plan [about] Trump…as a means of distraction?” Graham asked Comey Wednesday.
“That doesn’t ring any bells with me,” Comey replied.
“That’s a pretty stunning thing that it doesn’t ring a bell,” Graham fired back. “You get this inquiry from the intelligence community to look at the Clinton campaign trying to create a distraction, accusing Trump of being a Russian agent or a Russian stooge.”
Graham questioned “how far-fetched is that,” citing the fact that Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, through law firm Perkins Coie, hired Fusion GPS and ex-British intelligence officer Christopher Steele to author and compile information for the controversial and unverified anti-Trump dossier.
The dossier contains claims about alleged ties between Donald Trump and Russia that served as the basis for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants obtained against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
“A bunch of crap to be used against an American citizen,” Graham said. “You don’t recall this?”
Comey replied: “It doesn’t sound familiar.”
Asked later, by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on the matter, Comey said: “I don’t know what the director is doing.”
Graham’s line of questioning came after Ratcliffe informed the committee Tuesday that the Obama administration obtained Russian intelligence in July 2016 with allegations against Clinton, but cautioned that the intelligence community “does not know the accuracy of this allegation or the text to which the Russian intelligence analysis may reflect exaggeration or fabrication.”
Ratcliffe, in the letter sent to the committee, did not offer specifics on the intelligence, but did reveal that former CIA Director John Brennan’s handwritten notes show that he briefed former President Obama on the information.
According to Ratcliffe’s letter, the intelligence included the “alleged approval by Hillary Clinton on July 26, 2016 of a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisors to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by Russian security services.”
Nick Merrill, Clinton's spokesperson, called the allegations "baseless b———t."
"This is Russian disinformation," tweeted Rachel Cohen, spokeswoman for Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., adding that it was "laundered by the Director Of National Intelligence and Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.”
“This is extraordinary,” she tweeted.
But Ratcliffe, in a statement released after the information was made public, pushed back on the idea he was advancing "Russian disinformation."
"To be clear, this is not Russian disinformation and has not been assessed as such by the Intelligence Community,” Ratcliffe said in a statement to Fox News. “I’ll be briefing Congress on the sensitive sources and methods by which it was obtained in the coming days.”
Graham, of South Carolina, said he would review the information, noting that Ratcliffe would make it available in a classified setting.
“This latest information provided by DNI Ratcliffe shows there may have been a double standard by the FBI regarding allegations against the Clinton campaign and Russia," Graham said.
The new information will likely add to criticisms from Republicans and those close to the president about the Russia investigation.
Attorney General Barr last year appointed U.S. Attorney of Connecticut John Durham to investigate the origins of the FBI’s Russia probe shortly after special counsel Robert Mueller completed his years-long investigation into whether the campaign colluded with the Russians to influence the 2016 presidential election.
It is unclear whether this information will be considered part of Durham’s investigation.