Justice Dept. watchdog says James Comey broke FBI policy by keeping, leaking Trump meeting memos
Former FBI Director James Comey violated agency policies when he retained and leaked a set of memos he took documenting meetings with President Donald Trump early in 2017, the Justice Department’s inspector general said in a report released Thursday.
Comey set a “dangerous example” for FBI employees in an attempt to “achieve a personally desired outcome,” the report states.
However, the IG found “no evidence that Comey or his attorneys released any of the classified information contained in any of the memos to members of the media.”
The inspector general’s office referred the findings of its report to the Justice Department for potential prosecution earlier this summer. Prosecutors declined to bring a case, the report says.
CNN has previously reported that the Justice Department prosecutors didn’t believe there was evidence to show Comey knew and intended to violate laws on dealing with classified information.
The seven memos, which offer up stark examples of Trump’s early attempts to disrupt a federal probe into his inner circle, became a catalyst for the special counsel investigation when the contents of one first appeared in The New York Times. Comey testified in a 2017 Senate hearing that he had sent documents to a friend, Columbia University law school professor Daniel Richman, and directed him to share the substance with a reporter. Trump has blasted Comey as a “leaker” for Comey’s actions.
In one of the most consequential memos — the one which Comey asked Richman to detail to a reporter — Comey described a one-on-one meeting he had with Trump in the Oval Office where the President suggested he scuttle the federal investigation into Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go,” Comey recalled Trump saying, according to a copy of the memo.
Comey on Thursday noted the report’s concluding there was no classified information given to the media.
“I don’t need a public apology from those who defamed me, but a quick message with a “sorry we lied about you” would be nice,” he tweeted. “And to all those who’ve spent two years talking about me “going to jail” or being a “liar and a leaker”—ask yourselves why you still trust people who gave you bad info for so long, including the president.
Keeping memos private
Part of Comey’s breach of FBI protocol came in how he kept the memos private, among his personal property. Comey had kept four of the seven memos he wrote in a safe at his home, and had not told the FBI he kept them there after his firing. He eventually handed them over to the special counsel’s investigation in June 2017.
“Department policy states that employees may not, without agency permission, remove records from the Department — either during or after employment,” the inspector general wrote. “The FBI policies are no different.”
The inspector general said it interviewed 17 witnesses, including Comey and Richman, to produce its report.
The report said the former FBI chief set a “dangerous example” for agency employees.
“In a country built on the rule of law, it is of utmost importance that all FBI employees adhere to Department and FBI policies, particularly when confronted by what appear to be extraordinary circumstances or compelling personal convictions,” the report states. “Comey had several other lawful options available to him to advocate for the appointment of a Special Counsel, which he told us was his goal in making the disclosure. What was not permitted was the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive investigative information, obtained during the course of FBI employment, in order to achieve a personally desired outcome.”
Lawyers representing Comey were able to review a draft of the report recently and returned it to the inspector general with comments, a source familiar with the report said. That review process is typically one of the last steps before the publishing of an inspector general’s report.
Flynn eventually pleaded guilty in late 2017 to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador — one of the earliest sets of charges to stem from special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.
Comey has said that Richman, a former prosecutor, had been providing him legal advice since he was fired.
CNN reported last year that the inspector general’s office had also questioned a number of close associates of Comey’s from outside of the FBI that he had shared some of the memos with, in addition to Richman.
Copies of the memos that were produced to Congress last year contained classification markings showing that four had been designated “secret” or “confidential.” The other three memos did not have markings indicating they contain classified information.
The DOJ inspector general’s office is also said to be nearing the release of another hotly anticipated report — this one probing the origins of the Russia investigation and the FBI’s use of covert surveillance methods.
CNN reported last month that federal investigators in Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s office had conducted more than 100 interviews as part of the review. Its release is not expected until September at the earliest — after the release of the Comey report.
Allies of the President, including GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, have predicted that the FISA report would be “ugly and damning.” Last week, Graham vowed to bring Horowitz before his committee to publicly testify on the investigation, which the President has nicknamed “Spygate.”