Former FBI Director James Comey said the U.S. remains unprepared for another attack on its elections and that President Donald Trump's silence on Russia's interference in the 2016 campaign invites more Kremlin meddling in 2020.
Comey, speaking at a conference in California on Thursday, faulted Trump for a "presidential denial of a fundamental attack on the United States. In many ways we're inviting it to happen again with our president's silence."
Echoing the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies, Comey said Russia intervened in the 2016 election to damage American democracy, undermine Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and bolster Trump. Russian officials have denied the accusations.
The comments come as Trump renews criticism of Comey, whom he fired in 2017 amid the FBI's investigation of Russia's role in the 2016 election. On Tuesday, Trump accused Comey of "an attempted coup" as he continued his attacks on the recently completed investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed to probe Russian election interference shortly after the then-FBI director was fired.
"Everything about it was crooked, every single thing about it," Trump said of Mueller's investigation on Tuesday. "There were dirty cops. These were bad people. If you look at McCabe and Comey, and you look at Lisa and Peter Strzok, these were bad people. And this was a – an attempted coup. This was an attempted takedown of a president."
Attorney General William Barr said on Wednesday that he's starting his own inquiry into counterintelligence decisions that may have amounted to political "spying," including actions taken during the probe of the Trump campaign in 2016. Asked about Barr's comments, Comey said "I have no idea what he's talking about, so it's hard for me to comment."
"Maybe the only thing I can say generally is I think his career has earned him a presumption that he'll be one of the rare Trump Cabinet members who will stand up for things like truth and facts and institutional values," Comey said. "Language like this makes it harder, but I still think he's entitled to that presumption."
Comey admitted to what he said were his own shortcomings as head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, saying he wished he had done more to beef up U.S. defenses against cybersecurity threats.
"I failed to push us to the decision point of how do we want to deploy against this threat effectively," he said. "We failed to do an adequate job of pushing the information flow across the semi-permeable barrier across the government and the private sector. We're nowhere near where we need to be."
He also joked about what he would do differently if he could go back to 2013, the year he was sworn in to what was expected to be a 10-year term.
"Going back to 2013?" Comey said. "Can I decline to accept the appointment as FBI director?"
(Sebenius reported from Sausalito, Kapur from Washington.)