CNN’s Gagliano: ‘Lifeguard’ Comey ‘Surrounded Himself with Callow,’ ‘Inexperienced’ People

Appearing on CNN shows Thursday night and Friday morning, law enforcement analyst and former FBI Supervisory Special Agent James Gagliano slammed former FBI Director James Comey in context of the Justice Department’s IG report for having been “the least equipped lifeguard” to lead the FBI who “created a culture around him of young, callow, inexperienced agents.”

Gagliano appeared opposite former Comey aide and FBI agent Josh Campbell on Thursday’s Erin Burnett OutFront and pointed out that Comey “was basically convicted, if you will, in quotation marks, of violating norms” even though Loretta Lynch and President Obama “put him in an untenable position.”

 

 

“Where I pushback on him is he created a culture around him of young, callow, inexperienced agents that were making decisions on two giant cases that had huge consequences for the bureau and this country, and for that I fault him,” he explained to Campbell’s disapproval.

Later, Gagliano piled on Comey, deeming him second worst FBI Director ever “[n]ot because he's got poor character, not because he's a bad man,” but because “he let the inmates run the asylum, that he was a feckless leader and didn't push back on the President and the Attorney General when they attempted to infect politics into investigations.”

As expected, Campbell responded to Gagliano by telling him:

I was a young person in that room, but looking around the room, the table, the people with experience, there weren't a lot of spring chickens in there when you talk about expertise that came from both the investigative field and the legal field that were in the room making decisions. 

The two also squared off on Friday’s New Day with Campbell again treading carefully in talking about the report’s findings and giving the party line so to speak that there was wrongdoing but nothing was criminal. So basically what his boss did with Hillary Clinton.

Borrowing a Comey metaphor that the FBI in 2016 and 2017 represented a “500-year flood,” Gagliano hit Comey as “the least equipped lifeguard to be there when the rise waters began and the FBI did come assault.”

“Where the blame should pointed here, not be at Comey for violating norms, Justice Department because he elected to speak out. I felt that that was the right move to make, but he surrounded himself with callow and inexperienced people and let's go to Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, to your point,” he added.

The right-of-center CNNer (yes, there are a few of them out there) then directly condemned those attacking people who ask questions about the agency and what’s happened in the last few years:

People that — people that say folks like me who criticized the investigation are tin foil hat crowd because we talk about secret societies and insurance policies. The e-mails and texts that were released yesterday were damning. Now, again, did Comey have anything to do with placing his finger on the scale? I don't believe that, but I do believe the Senate or the House Judiciary Committee need to bring in Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, put them under oath and ask questions about some very damning rhetoric in e-mails that suggest that people were — whether or not it happened or not, people were actively working or seeking or looking to impact a lawful election. 

Campbell was again not amused, stating that “it’s not true” that Comey led “callous and inexperienced people” because “[i]f you look at the people that were in his orbit, these career FBI agents and prosecutors who had worked all over the country, indeed all over the world, it’s just simply not true.” 

In other words, Campbell put worth spin that Page and Strzok were isolated or rogue individuals that “caused grave damage to the organization.” 

Regardless of your views on this, this has not been a great week for the FBI and it’s in the country’s best interest for there to be an ethically sound FBI that the American people trust.

Click “expand” to see the relevant transcript from CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront on June 14.

CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront
June 14, 2018
7:18 p.m. Eastern

ERIN BURNETT: Josh, inspector general said it was extraordinary and insubordinate for Comey to conceal his intentions from his superiors, which the report concluded he did so purposefully. Today, though, Comey is out saying he did nothing wrong, he's been exonerated. Is he in denial? 

JOSH CAMPBELL: Well, it’s a good question. I mean, if you look at the decisions that were made, I mean, a lot of this is going to be in the eye of the beholder to look at what the inspector general came up with, an independent agency that’s charged with essentially serving the role as watchdog and ensure the FBI comports itself. You know, as I look the at the report today, going through it, the recommendations and a lot of the allegations that were in there, I tried to look at this through the lens of an investigation, as an FBI agent, and ask, you know, was there wrongdoing? And what was the motive? What was the intention? Now, it appears that there were —

BURNETT: Well, motive matters, yeah.

CAMPELL: It does matter. It appears there was wrongdoing, policies weren't followed. There was, you know, this call of insubordination, but I think the major takeaway for me, looking at that motivation, the inspector general found that there was no evidence of political corruption here of political intent. 

BURNETT: Right.

CAMPBELL: So obviously, you know, mistakes were made, the decisions that didn't comport with policy, but it wasn't the criminal nature that we've been hearing from, you know, those down at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

BURNETT: Right, not for political reasons, certainly part of the reason. Of course, insubordination, ironically, you know, insubordination to President Obama, which if you're president Trump you should like. You know, just kind of pointing out the irony of that. 

CAMPBELL: That’s right.

GAGLIANO: James, what's your takeaway?

JAMES GAGLIANO: So, Erin, I spent a good part of this afternoon grinding through as many of the 568 pages, which included the introduction and the appendices of the I.G. report and then, interestingly, enough, 30 minutes after the report comes out, boom, we have James Comey delivers an op-ed to The New York Times, signed, sealed and delivered, where he weighs in on the report's findings. I went through that and then I listened to Christopher Wray’s sober and impressive press conference this afternoon where he talked about how the FBI's culture is going to change, how they're going to embrace the findings and how they're going to try to get to the bottom, to Josh's point, figure out what went wrong and fix it. I listened to this report and to the press conference with a third ear. James Comey was — was basically convicted, if you will, in quotation marks, of violating norms. I give him the benefit of the doubt on that. I think Loretta Lynch put him in an untenable position, President Obama did the same. I think he was put into a bad position and he took what he thought was the least worst approach. Where I pushback on him is he created a culture around him of young, callow, inexperienced agents that were making decisions on two giant cases that had huge consequences for the bureau and this country, and for that I fault him. 

BURNETT: So, so, so James, the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, says the report actually confirms the President's suspicions about Comey's conduct, right? They're talking about political bias and they’re saying it's still there, which they're actually saying it pretty smartly cause the report does say there was political bias but the report concludes that it did not impact the investigation, which, of course, Team Trump leaves out completely of their commentary. However, the president has frequently defended his decision to fire Comey, and here's why. 

[TRUMP CLIPS]

BURNETT: And, of course, that's just the tip of the iceberg, guys. On Twitter, “slippery James Comey, a man who always ends up batting out of whack (he is not smart!)” That’s obviously not true. Anyway, “will go down as the WORST FBI Director in history, by far.” So, James, is that true? Worst FBI director in history? 

GAGLIANO: Well, I wrote a piece a number of months ago where I ranked — there have only been eight FBI directors in the 110-year history of the FBI and I put James Comey just above William Sessions and William Sessions left during the President Clinton administration because of ethics violations. My issues with James Comey are this. I don’t doubt he’s not a good man —

BURNETT: You say not the worst, the second worst?

GAGLIANO: I say he's the second-worst. Not because he's got poor character, not because he's a bad man, and I'm sure Josh can weigh in and give us stories about James Comey doing good things. I served under him for two years. My issues with him are the fact that he let the inmates run the asylum, that he was a feckless leader and didn't push back on the President and the Attorney General when they attempted to infect politics into investigations. 

BURNETT: Josh, before we go, I have to have weigh in on this. So, the report says Jim Comey was using a personal e-mail account. Sure, unclassified conversations, but he's using a personal e-mail account after he had investigated Hillary Clinton for doing the same thing. I mean, how the heck did that happen? 

CAMPBELL: Yeah, there's a lot of wrongdoing in that report. I would put that in that category. I think that, you know, if saw what former Secretary Clinton had tweeted today, I thought that was cute. I — it was reminiscent of kind of what they did with Secretary Powell as far as his AOL account. I think there's a giant difference between using your e-mail account for, you know, speeches and using it to talk about drone and top-secret, covert clearance information, so I don’t want to relitigate the past. But, again, I'd put Comey's use of a private e-mail account in the category of things of wrongdoing. But I will say one thing if I can also and, you know, pushing back respectfully on what Jimmy was saying about the people Comey surrounded himself with, I was a young person in that room, but looking around the room, the table, the people with experience, there weren't a lot of spring chickens in there when you talk about expertise that came from both the investigative field and the legal field that were in the room making decisions. 

BURNETT: Alright, thank you both. 

Click “expand” to see the relevant transcript from CNN’s New Day on June 15.

CNN’s New Day
June 15, 2018
6:32 p.m. Eastern

RUDY GIULIANI [on FNC’s Hannity, 06/14/18]: Tomorrow, Mueller should be suspended and honest people should be brought in, impartial people to investigate these people like Strzok. Strzok should be in jail by the end of next week. 

JOHN BERMAN: Alright, Peter Strzok is an FBI agent who is no longer part of the Mueller probe. The I.G. report, which came out yesterday, did not deal with the Mueller investigation. That was President Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Guiliani, nevertheless, using the report from Inspector General for political purposes, suggesting somehow the Mueller investigation is impugned. Let's discuss a little of the fallout here. Joining me is two former FBI agents. Two CI — CNN law enforcement analysts. Josh Campbell is with us. Also, former FBI Advisory Special Agent James Gagliano. Gentlemen, Thank you very much for being with us. You know, Josh, I want to start with you. Let me just go over the key findings in this report. No evidence that prosecutors or Comey were affected by political bias. Comey broke protocol by announcing Clinton was cleared, FBI agent texted he's stop Trump from becoming president. Comey used personal e-mail account for business purposes. No evidence that President Clinton and Lynch — Loretta Lynch discussed probe on tarmac. That’s a whole lot of headlines here. Josh, you described this as a 500-year flood for the FBI.

JOSH CAMPBELL: Right and that’s how it was described within the FBI. Those who lived through 2016 and the 2017. If you think about all the ingredients that came together during this period of time, you had a major party candidate for president that was under FBI investigation and then another candidate who would then become indirectly under investigation. You had the boss of the FBI, the Attorney General, meeting privately on an airplane with the spouse of a subject of a criminal investigation and as all of this is going on, you have these two employees exercises incredibly bad judgment, having this extramarital affair and exchanges these texts, which would then explode, as we know now and cause such great damage to the FBI. So, as you look at — in the organization at this period of time, it very much felt under assault. 

BERMAN: It felt under assault. You describe it as, you know, this complicated mess of things going on at once. But, Jim, you know, this I.G. report really says there was a lot going on. But James Comey, the FBI Director, handled it poorly. 

JAMES GAGLIANO: Yeah, John, let’s — let's stay with the 500-year flood metaphor. I don't disagree that James Comey was thrust into an untenable position. I just believe he was the least equipped lifeguard to be there when the rise waters began and the FBI did come assault. Now, how did they come under assault. Well, I went through the 568 pages, including appendices and I also — I also read, ironically, the contemporaneously released op-ed that James Comey provided to The New York Times and then I listened to Director Wray’s sober remarks about the FBI. Where the blame should pointed here, not be at Comey for violating norms, Justice Department because he elected to speak out. I felt that that was the right move to make, but he surrounded himself with callow and inexperienced people and let's go to Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, to your point. People that — people that say folks like me that have criticized the investigation are tin foil hat crowd because we talk about secret societies and insurance policies. The e-mails and texts that were released yesterday were damning. Now, again, did Comey have anything to do with placing his finger on the scale? I don't believe that, but I do believe the Senate or the House Judiciary Committee need to bring in Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, put them under oath and ask questions about some very damning rhetoric in e-mails that suggest that people were — whether or not it happened or not, people were actively working or seeking or looking to impact a lawful election. 

BERMAN: Look, go ahead, Josh.

CAMPBELL: Yeah, no, I’ll just add. I mean, first of all, with respect to the point about the FBI Director being directed by callous and inexperienced people, it's not true. If you look at the people that were in his orbit, these career FBI agents and prosecutors who had worked all over the country, indeed all over the world, it’s just simply not true. Obviously I'm with you with respect to Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. I think that they cause grave damage to the organization. They exercised incredibly bad judgment, but I think the main takeaway, and I'm not opposed to Congress looking into their actions that, you know, to determining is there more to be investigated. There should be transparency, but the main take away here and I think we need to step back and focus on is that the allegations that have been made against the FBI, you know, you mentioned this tin foil hat crowd and the like. There have been these, you know, a lot of negative things have been thrown out, but the main allegation was the FBI was politically corrupt and those allegations were coming from the president himself, from his allies, from now Republicans in Congress who have been making that claim 

BERMAN: Josh —

CAMPELL: — and it simply is not borne out by the Inspector General. 

BERMAN: — hang on one second and to be clear, you know, the report says they found no evidence in the conclusions that their conclusions were talked about bias, but it does talk about bias that Peter Strzok might have had. This is a new statement from the President, the first time he has responded directly to the I.G. Report. It says: “FBI Agent Peter Strzok, who headed the Clinton & Russia investigations, texted to his lover Lisa Page, in the IG Report, that “we’ll stop” candidate Trump from becoming President. Doesn’t get any lower than that!”

CAMPBELL: And I agree with the President. That statement that he just made there is 100 percent true. For someone in the FBI to be exchanging these messages, it is disgusting and, again, it's disgraceful. But I'm waiting for the next message because if that somehow connects this Clinton I.G. investigation to Bob Mueller and Russia, then I think we have a problem. 

BERMAN: Jim, do you think there is no connection there? 

GAGLIANO: No. I think we need to be careful too. We've got the results of two I.G. reports. There's a third one coming and that may be another instance where we may be able to glean what type, if any, of some of the junior level, senior executives were influenced in any investigations. Look, it's troubling. I agree with Josh. The 36,000 employees in the FBI are diligent, dutiful, patriots, but we are right to criticize. Folks that were in positions of immense power. Yes, Peter Strzok couldn't alone impact an investigation, but he made serious decisions and he influenced things. He had immense power as a Deputy Assistant Director in Counterintelligence. I think this needs to be fleshed out.

BERMAN: Does this — does this impugn the Mueller investigation, Jim? 

GAGLIANO: Absolutely not. Absolutely — we can walk and chew gum at the same time, John. I believe this is a separate apparatus here. I have great confidence in Director Mueller. He is a patriot. He is a man that is prepared to come out and say there’s no there there or here’s the findings that we found and I’m not prepared to put my name to this document that says the investigation is complete and here’s what it says. I’ve got utter trust and confidence.

BERMAN: Josh —

CAMPBELL: Yeah.

GAGLIANO: That investigation should continue. 

BERMAN: — hang on one second, Josh. Because what we’re hearing from Republicans, and I will speak to Matt Gatez, who’s going to say this, you know, in an hour from now, is that this text from Peter Strzok came nine days after the Russia investigation began. He is saying we'll stop Trump after the Russia investigation began. Is that timing a bad fact? 

CAMPBELL: Oh, yeah, it would. It’s a bad — obviously, it's a bad fact if you look at the chronology here. One thing that I would point out, and Jimmy is right that there’s this additional report that’s coming. Let's treat that differently than the way we treated this investigation. When I say we, I mean, the President, I mean the party that's already in power because if you look back, this has been going on for a year, 18 months looking into this and people were making predictions about what this report would say, baking in this narrative in the American psyche that the FBI was corrupt and what we find? It — they weren't. There wasn’t political implications here on their investigation. We should let this I.G. investigation play out. Obviously, the President has been throwing out terms like spygate and the like and we heard that connected yesterday with some of the former Trump campaign people trying to connect that to this reprot. We should pump the brakes, let the I.G. do his work. Let’s not bake some false narrative into the mind of our viewers. Let's see what the report says. 

BERMAN: Alright, Josh Campbell, James Gagliano. Thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it, guys. We’re going to be talking about this for some time. 

NB Daily FBI Conservatives & Republicans Liberals & Democrats Political Scandals Trump-Russia probe CNN New Day Erin Burnett OutFront Video Government & Press James Comey Hillary Clinton Peter Strzok
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