James Comey said disclosure of Clinton email probe was to prevent her from being seen as 'illegitimate'

  • James Comey told ABC News that he disclosed the FBI's probe into Hillary Clinton's email in order to prevent her from being seen as "illegitimate" if she were elected.
  • When asked if his letter to Congress killed her electoral prospects, Comey said: "I honestly don't know," according to a partial transcript.

Former FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill June 8, 2017 in Washington, DC.
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Former FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill June 8, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Former FBI Director James Comey decided to go public with the bureau's 2016 investigation into Hillary Clinton's email, in part because he wanted to prevent the former Secretary of State from being perceived as "illegitimate" if she prevailed in the general election, Comey told ABC News in an interview.

In a partial transcript of Comey's eagerly anticipated interview with the network, the former FBI chief explained to ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos that he was "operating in a world where Hillary Clinton was going to beat Donald Trump, and so I'm sure that it was a factor."

He added: "I don't remember spelling it out, but it had to have been, that she's going to be elected president and if I hide this from the American people, she'll be illegitimate the moment she's elected, the moment this comes out," according to ABC 's transcript.

Conventional wisdom had Clinton winning the hotly contested general election. The Democrat led most national polls for months, only to lose the Electoral College vote to Trump in a shocking November defeat. The former Secretary of State and her supporters have blamed Comey's 11th hour disclosure of the investigation for her loss.

Comey, however, couldn't say definitively whether his letter to Congress actually killed her chances, but said he would do it again, even if he knew it would help Trump. When asked about if the letter had hurt Clinton, Comey told ABC: "I hope not. I don't know. I honestly don't know. I sure hope not."

The interview is tied to the release of Comey's book, "A Highly Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership," scheduled to be released on Monday.

In recent days, a war of words has erupted between Comey and his former boss, President Donald Trump. The president has heaped much of the blame for his ongoing legal troubles on the FBI, and just Friday blasted Comey as an "untruthful slime ball."

Since his abrupt firing last year, Comey has been wont to using social media to take cryptic and subliminal digs at his former boss. Yet ahead of the publication of his book, he issued an uncharacteristically blunt response to Trump, vowing last month that the public would hear his side of the story "very soon."