In an exciting twist, CNN International anchor Christian Amanpour’s recent interview of James Comey ended up revealing more about Amanpour’s own wacky political beliefs than it did about the former FBI director. At one point, Amanpour left Comey momentarily stunned when she inquired whether the FBI should have “allowed” Trump supporters to chant “lock her up” during the 2016 election.
The pre-recorded segment occupied the first half of CNN’s 1:00 p.m. EDT hour on Monday. The first 20 minutes were largely unremarkable, featuring a discussion of Comey’s thoughts on the Mueller investigation.
Things took a partisan turn when the conversation shifted to the investigation into former State Secretary Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Here, Amanpour engaged in the time-honored media tradition of blaming Comey for Clinton’s defeat in the 2016 election: “Do you ever think that you might be responsible for the election of President Trump?” She added, “Does that keep you up at night?”
Amanpour was referring to Comey’s unprecedented announcement days before the 2016 election that the FBI had reopened its investigation into Clinton. She then inquired why the FBI had not also announced the existence of a Trump-Russia investigation: “Are you worried in hindsight that you didn’t bust any norm, or you didn’t tell the people that you were investigating Russian interference before the election?”
It appeared Amanpour’s gripe was not that Comey had broken with tradition, but rather that said break had harmed Clinton rather than Trump. Comey appeared taken aback by the question: “What would we disclose? It was all classified to begin with?” He added that such a reveal “would have been irresponsible in the extreme.”
Then came a question so out of touch with American politics that one wonders how Brian Stelter will inevitably try to defend it:
Of course, “Lock her up” was a feature of the 2016 Trump campaign. Do you, in retrospect, wish that people like yourself, the head of the FBI, I mean, the people in charge of law and order – had shut down that language?
She added that the chant was “kind of hate speech” and inquired thoughtfully, “Should that have been allowed?”
After a brief silence, Comey kindly explained to the British reporter how the First Amendment works: “That’s not a role for government to play... people can say what they want.”
Click "expand" below for a partial transcript of the interview:
CNN Right Now with Brianna Keilar
1:23 – 1:29 p.m. EDT
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Do you ever think that you might be responsible for the election of President Trump? Does that keep you up at night?
JAMES COMEY: Sure, and I hope some day somebody proves that what we did was irrelevant. But as I said, when we were were making the choice between the two paths –
AMANPOUR: But it kind of was – sorry – it was irrelevant because you came out and said, "It's fine, there's nothing there."
COMEY: Right. Well, it turned out it didn't chagne our judgment with respect to Secretary Clinton. There was plenty there, but yeah, it ended up not having an impact on our investigative judgment. But again, I hope we had no impact, I hope it's proves it was irrelevant. But all it does is increase the pain; it doesn't change how I think about the decision. My view, and again, good people can see this differently, but my view and the view of my team was, we cannot conceal from the American people that the investigation we told them and fought to tell them is done, is done, is done – is not done, and the result could change. We just couldn't do that.
But look, I get – I respect her view, I accept the criticism. It doesn't change how I think about it, though.
AMANPOUR: Are you worried in hindsight that you didn’t bust any norm, or you didn’t tell the people that you were investigating Russian interference before the election?
AMANPOUR: Because that’s really dramatic.
COMEY: Sure, but now looking back through the lens of the conclusion from the Special Counsel that there apparently wasn’t a case there, it just, to my mind, reinforces that we made the prudent decision.
We didn’t know whether we had anything in the summer of 2016. We weren’t investigating the candidate. We had indications that one of his campaign advisers had spoken to a Russian operative months earlier about the fact that the Russians had dirt on Hillary. That was it. That was important basis to investigate, but we never considered making a disclosure, because what would we disclose? It was all classified to begin with, but we didn’t know whether was any fire to go along with the smoke. It would have been irresponsible in the extreme. And so, I just – I don’t think that’s a fair criticism of us. Important and fair discussion about whether we should have said more about the overarching Russian effort, but that’s a separate question.
AMANPOUR: Of course, “Lock her up” was a feature of the 2016 Trump campaign. Do you, in retrospect, wish that people like yourself, the head of the FBI, I mean, the people in charge of law and order – had shut down that language? That it was dangerous potentially, that it could have created violence, that it’s kind of hate speech? Should that have been allowed?
COMEY: That’s not a role for government to play. The beauty of this country is, people can say what they want, even if it’s misleading and it’s demagoguery. The people who should have shut it down were Republicans who understand the rule of law and the values that they claim to stand for. Shame on them, but it wasn't a role for government to play.