Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey said Wednesday it makes him “mildly nauseous” to think his agency might have had an impact on Donald Trump winning the U.S. presidential election, after it reopened a probe into Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton days before the vote.
Comey told a Senate panel he agonized over disclosing the new investigation into Clinton’s handling of classified information on her private email server during her time as U.S. secretary of state. The renewed investigation came months after the FBI had cleared her of wrongdoing.
Comey said he decided it would have been “catastrophic” to conceal the information after having assured Congress the probe had been completed.
“It was a hard choice, but I still believe it was right,” he said.
WATCH: Comey on how his actions affected election result
The FBI normally tries not to disclose investigations of candidates shortly before an election so it won’t affect the outcome. But Comey said “not for a moment” did he consider whether the new probe might help Trump defeat Clinton in the November vote.
Comey made his revelation 11 days before the election, after investigators found thousands of Clinton’s State Department emails on the computer of a disgraced former congressman, Anthony Wiener, the estranged husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
On Tuesday, Clinton had partly blamed her loss on Comey.
“A combination of Jim Comey’s letter on October 28 and Russian WikiLeaks [of hacked emails related to her campaign] raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me but got scared off,” she said. “And the evidence for that intervening event is, I think, compelling and persuasive.”
Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he did not see a way for him to take no action.
“I can’t consider for a second whose political fortunes will be affected and in what way,” he said. “We have to ask ourselves, what is the right thing to do? And do that thing.”
WATCH: Comey on how decision on Clinton emails affected Trump
Comey announced shortly before Election Day that the result of the new investigation was the same conclusion the FBI had reached earlier, that Clinton was “extremely careless” in handling her email but that no criminal charges were warranted.
Lawmakers also asked him Wednesday about the FBI’s ongoing investigation of Russian meddling in the election to help Trump win, and possible collusion between Trump campaign aides and Russian interests. Comey said the FBI did not reveal the existence of that probe before the election because it had not been completed, and still hasn’t been.
He was also critical of WikiLeaks, saying the organization’s methods of publishing information make it a “conduit for the Russian intelligence services or some other adversary of the United States just to push out information to damage the United States.”
WATCH: Comey on protecting credibility of Justice Department's investigation
Trump, in Twitter comments Wednesday, offered a distinctly different view than Clinton of Comey’s actions, saying the FBI director “was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds!” when he cleared her of any wrongdoing in July.
Trump has largely dismissed FBI and congressional investigations into the U.S. intelligence community’s finding that Moscow interfered to help him win.
“The phony Trump/Russia story was an excuse used by the Democrats as justification for losing the election,” he said in a tweet. “Perhaps Trump just ran a great campaign?”
The FBI and congressional investigators have focused some of their attention on links between Trump’s first national security adviser, retired Army General Michael Flynn, and Russia. Flynn accepted more than $30,000 to attend a 2015 dinner in Moscow celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Kremlin-controlled RT television network, sitting next to Russian president Vladimir Putin, and more than $500,000 to represent Turkey.
But Trump ousted Flynn after 24 days on the job when it was learned that he lied to Vice President Mike Pence and others about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to Washington in the weeks before Trump assumed power.
The Defense Department inspector general’s office has opened an investigation into whether Flynn sought any permission, as he was specifically told to do when he retired from the military, to accept the payments from foreign governments.
The White House has said that in naming Flynn to the top White House security post, it relied on a security clearance he was given in 2016 by the Barack Obama administration.