Ben Sasse Confronts Comey Over FISA Abuses Under His Leadership: ‘Where Were You?’

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) wants to know what former FBI Director James Comey is most embarrassed by in a stinging report by Justice Department Inspector General Mitchael Horowitz that focused on his agency’s handling of its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Horowitz found that there were several errors or omissions in the FISA warrant applications for members of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. However, he did not find that those errors were the result of political bias. 

“I was embarrassed to read the Horowitz report. When you read it, what are the top two or three things that you’re embarrassed by?” Sasse asked Comey during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday.

Comey answered that he was embarrassed by the “collection of ommissions” and “failures to consider updates,” which he said was “sloppy.”

He noted that Horowitz did not find the errors and omissions were intentional, but, “That doesn’t make it any less concerning and embarrassing.”

Sasse noted during that the hearing Comey repeatedly said he was unaware of failures to follow the procedures for FISA surveillance warrant. He asked, “It was your culture, you were the leader, you were to maintain and build up that culture … Isn’t the Horowitz report chiefly an indictment of you personally?”

Comey responded, “I hope you don’t hear me to say, ‘I’m not responsible.’ I was the leader of that institution, so this reflects on me entirely, and it’s my responsibility.”

However, he argued that it a “separate question” from whether he was briefed on specific aspects of an investigation.

Watch the video below (Starting at 2:05:30)

Sasse pushed back and noted that he was not focused on just one investigation. He added the Horowitz found errors in the FISA surveillance warrant application in several investigations that dated back as far as 2014.

“I believed the checks and balances in the system were real. You were responsible for those checks and balances. Where were you?” Sasse asked.

Comey said he “took comfort in the complexity of the layers and layers of review and oversight associated with FISA.” However, he argued that the prevalence of the errors in the FISA shows the process began to break down over the years. 

“What happened to, I think, is through a lot of years of creating oversight, is responsibility was diffused instead of concentrated in individual human beings,” he said.

Sasse said he found that answer “insufficient.” He went on to say he does not want to impugn the majority of FBI agents. However, he said he believes there was a “culture” at the agency that led many to believe they would not be held accountable for failing to follow the FISA process. 

Comey admitted he “did not do enough” to ensure the FISA process was followed and said he had too much confidence in the system. However, he maintained that he believes the diffusion of responsibility in the FISA process led to a breakdown in the oversight system.

Earlier this month, Attorney General William Barr unveiled new restrictions on the FISA warrant process aimed addressing the errors highlighted in Horowitz’ reports, as IJR reported.