President Obama believes FBI Director James Comey is a man of strong character and integrity, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday, in response to the uproar over Comey informing Congress that the bureau had reopened its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
Comey drew the ire of Clinton and the Democratic Party for the timing of his announcement so close to Election Day.
Emails related to Clinton’s private server were reportedly found during a separate investigation of Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Investigators found 650,000 emails on a laptop that they believe was used by Weiner and Abedin, and the Wall Street Journal reported “underlying metadata” suggested thousands of those emails could have been to or from Clinton’s server.
Earnest said he would “neither defend nor criticize” what Comey has communicated to the public about the investigation, citing the White House’s desire to avoid the appearance of influencing the matter.
“The president believes that there are a set of significant institutional responsibilities that officials at the Department of Justice and the FBI must fulfill,” he said. “The good news is the president believes that Director Comey is a man of integrity, he’s a man of principle, and he’s a man of good character.”
Obama nominated Comey to the FBI Director position in 2013. He was confirmed and began a 10-year term.
Asked by a reporter whether Obama would like to see the FBI release more information to give a clearer picture of the situation, Earnest said he had no comment, citing no independent knowledge of what’s behind the agency’s decision-making process.
Earnest added he personally believed Comey to be a person of high character.
“What I have observed in the past is that Director Comey is a man of integrity, he’s a man of principle, he’s a man who is well-regarded by senior officials in both parties,” Earnest said. “He’s somebody who served in a senior position in the Bush administration, and he’s somebody who got strong bipartisan support when his nomination to be the director of the FBI was considered by the United States Senate, so all of those things are true. They speak to his good character, and the president’s assessment of his integrity and his character has not changed.”
Earnest added that Obama did not believe Comey is trying to influence the election’s outcome.
Top Democrats openly praised Comey in the aftermath of the FBI’s decision to not recommend charges against Clinton in July. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) previously called him a person of unquestioned competence, but he sent a letter over the weekend accusing Comey of violating federal law with his letter to Congress.