WASHINGTON — Despite White House claims to the contrary, fired FBI Director James Comey was highly respected and trusted within the bureau during his nearly four-year tenure, according to internal survey results released Wednesday.
The data detailing bureau attitudes about its leader contradict White House assertions that Comey, fired by President Donald Trump in May, had lost the confidence of the bureau’s rank and file.
When asked specifically if Comey had “a positive impact on my morale,” a majority of survey respondents gave the director high marks in 2015, 2016 and 2017, the results show. Other, broader employee surveys dating to the start of Comey’s tenure in 2013 show consistently high levels of respect for senior FBI leadership — including the director — and high levels of pride that people had in working for the FBI over that time.
Using a 1-to-5 scale, where scores between 3.81 and 5 are considered a “success in those areas,” Comey received average scores of 4.67, 4.39 and 4.38, respectively, on the morale question. Those results were tallied from 36 respondents in 2015, from 47 in 2016 and from 48 in 2017.
Respondents’ “trust and confidence” in Comey as a leader did drop slightly between 2015 and 2017 — from an average score of 4.78 to 4.46 — though it still fell within the higher end of the top benchmark for the surveys.
Trump initially cited Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s personal email server as justification for firing him. The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, wrote a three-page memo criticizing those decisions, saying that as a result the FBI was “unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a director who understands the gravity of the mistakes.”
But Trump later said he had intended to fire Comey all along, dubbing him a “showboat.” A White House spokeswoman said then she had personally heard from “countless” agents who had complained about Comey’s leadership.
At the time of his firing, Comey was overseeing the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and any potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
At a congressional hearing shortly after Comey’s dismissal, the then-acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, testified that Comey “enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day.”
The survey results, which were gleaned from anonymous responses, support that assertion.
In the broader surveys in 2013 and 2014, field office employees asked whether they had “a high level of respect” for senior leadership, including the director, gave an average score of 4.01 and 3.88, respectively.
In 2015, 2016 and 2017, respondents asked whether they were proud to work for the FBI overwhelming said they were, tallying average scores of 4.61, 4.66 and 4.59 for those years, the results show.
In 2015, average scores were tallied based on responses of 82 per cent of FBI employees; in 2016 from 75 per cent of employees and in 2017 from 72 per cent of employees, according to an FBI spokeswoman.
The annual surveys measuring bureau employees’ attitudes about their workplace conditions and their attitudes about senior leadership, including the director, were released after The Associated Press and other news outlets requested them under the Freedom of Information Act.
The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the survey results and its previous characterizations of Comey’s leadership at the FBI.