FBI chief 'nauseous' at thought he swayed US election

WASHINGTON: FBI Director James Comey said Wednesday he felt "nauseous" at the thought he swayed last year's US election by announcing he was reopening a probe into Hillary Clinton's emails just days before the vote.

But the FBI chief told a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee it would have been far worse to conceal his decision – which the Democrat Clinton claims was a key factor in her defeat to Donald Trump.

"It makes me mildly nauseous to think we might have had impact on the election," he said. "But, honestly, it wouldn't change the decision."

Comey shocked the country when he informed Congress he was reopening the probe into Clinton's unauthorised use of a private email server as secretary of state, months after declaring the probe found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

The about-face followed the discovery of missing Clinton emails with classified material on the laptop of a former congressman on Oct 27 last year, days before the Nov 8 election.

The emails were found on a computer belonging to disgraced former lawmaker Anthony Weiner, implicated in recurring internet sex scandals, who also happens to be the husband of Huma Abedin, a top Clinton aide.

Comey said he was faced with two options: either conceal the investigation until after the vote, or inform Congress.

"Speak would be really bad. There's an election in 11 days. Lordy, that would be really bad," Comey said.

"Concealing in my view would be catastrophic."

Congress was duly informed, and the news leaked out immediately on Oct 28, casting a cloud over Clinton.

The FBI was sharply attacked as taking a political stance and Democrats continue to bristle over Comey's actions.

In an interview on Tuesday, Clinton claimed that had been a major factor in her loss, saying: "If the election had been on Oct 27, I'd be your president."

But Comey said it was the right choice and he would do it again if he had to.

"I've lived my entire career by the tradition that if you can possibly avoid it, you avoid any action in the runup to an election that might have impact, whether it's a dogcatcher election or president of the United States."

"Even in hindsight – and this has been one of the world's most painful experiences – I would make the same decision."

Comey was repeatedly questioned by senators Wednesday on why he spoke up on the Clinton emails investigation during the election but kept secret the FBI's probe into Russian interference during the campaign.

Clinton said that Russian interference also damaged her campaign while boosting Trump's.

Comey answered that it was a matter of timing – that the Clinton probe was only confirmed after it was underway for three months, while the Russia investigation was much younger at the time.

"With respect to the Russia investigation, we treated it like we did with the Clinton investigation. We didn't say a word about it until months into it," he said.

WikiLeaks is 'intelligence porn'

Comey meanwhile refused to comment on where the Russia investigation stands now or who on the Trump team is being examined for possible collusion with Moscow.

He also took time to blast WikiLeaks, which US officials say abetted Russia's campaign interference operation by publishing stolen documents from the Democratic National Committee which embarrassed Clinton.

He said WikiLeaks cannot claim protections as a journalism organisation, because it has become "simply about releasing classified information to damage the United States of America".

"It crosses a line when it moves from being about trying to educate a public and instead becomes about intelligence porn – just pushing out information about sources and methods without regard to the First Amendment values that normally underlie press reporting," Comey told the committee. — AFP