(CNN) – Former FBI Director James Comey answered New Yorkers’ questions on moral leadership, regret and Hillary Clinton’s emails on Wednesday night for the first time since his book was released.
Answering questions written by audience members on notecards, Comey was asked several times if he regretted reopening Clinton’s investigation just before the election. Comey gave a self-described “wandering” answer, saying he had small regrets in how he had explained the decisions to the public.
But overall, he said the entire situation was between a bad decision and a worse one.
“I would rather not have been involved, honestly,” Comey said. “I would rather Hillary Clinton never had to use a personal email system. I would rather Anthony Weiner never had a laptop.”
Comey had announced in July 2016, during the presidential campaign, that he would not recommend charges in the investigation of Clinton’s email practices. But in a controversial move, he told Congress just days before the election that the FBI was reviewing additional emails in relation to the investigation. In early November, Comey then informed lawmakers that those emails did not warrant any further action.
The former FBI director, who President Donald Trump fired in May 2017, said he’s OK if people read the book and don’t agree with his decisions, as long as they hear why he made them.
“I hope you’ll emerge saying, ‘Oh, OK, now I see what they were grappling with,’ ” he said.
But overall, Comey said he would do the same thing given the same facts and circumstances, with only minor changes.
“I regret that I didn’t have an opportunity as the election approached to explain, why why why.”
The event at the Barnes & Noble in New York City’s Union Square was Comey’s first time facing the public — as opposed to in a TV or radio studio — on his book tour for “A Higher Loyalty.”
Twice during the event, an audience member stood up to interrupt and make a scene. One woman, holding up her phone, yelled at Comey that he should be imprisoned. Minutes later, another woman held up a sign and proclaimed to the audience that “Donald Trump is a fascist.”
Both protesters were greeted with boos by the audience and were ushered out by security.
“We should not be yelling at each other, no matter where on the (political) spectrum,” Comey said after the outbursts. “You shouldn’t hate people who are in another place on the political spectrum.”
The book was officially released on Tuesday, about 11 months after his firing, and details his rise to the FBI directorship and his impressions and interactions with Trump.
Over the past few days, Comey has spoken out about the book in TV appearances with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “The View.” Comey will sit down with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Thursday and attend a CNN town hall with Anderson Cooper next Wednesday.
On Wednesday night, Comey said America faces a situation where lying has become normalized.
“When I wake up in the morning and see the President called for my imprisonment, I actually shrug,” he said. “That shrug shows you’re becoming numb to something that is not OK. That is not normal.”
He answered 13 questions in all. Four were related to Clinton’s emails and four were related to Trump and the current administration.
In reply to one question, about what he would say to those who believe a so-called “deep state” of career US government bureaucrats is undermining Trump, Comey said there is a deep state in the sense that there were people passionately trying to do right.
“That should comfort all of us,” he said. “There is a ballast in America.”
Ronjanabh Bahukhand, 33, a software developer for Bloomberg, was one of those in the audience who asked Comey about his handling of Clinton’s emails.
“I think he is a catalyst of a lot that has happened, and will be remembered for multiple decades from now, like how we think about Watergate,” Bahukhand said.