FBI Director James Comey pauses while making a statement at FBI Headquarters in Washington, Tuesday, July 5, 2016. Comey said the FBI will not recommend criminal charges in its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
In a surprising bit of news that came out late Wednesday, the Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz was said to be compiling a separate report on the behavior of former FBI Director James Comey specifically related to his personal retention of FBI files on Donald Trump.
The details of that report, released Thursday, find that, although the DOJ has already declined to prosecute Comey, he certainly “violated FBI policies and his FBI Employment Agreement by failing to notify the FBI that he had retained them, or to seek authorization to retain them.”
Comey drafted seven memos documenting discussions he had with Donald Trump in early 2017, and kept four of them personally without permission and in violation of FBI policy. One was used to provide information to a friend —Columbia University law school professor Daniel Richman — with explicit instructions to that friend to provide the information to a reporter. The information was later used in a New York Times report that suggested Donald Trump had attempted to persuade the FBI to stop its investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
“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 wrote, attributing the words to Donald Trump.
All four memos kept in his home were also shared with Comey’s attorneys without approval from the FBI. Comey said he took pains to exclude classified information in his memos while writing them, but they were later determined by the DOJ to contain “sensitive” information.
The IG report says Comey set a “dangerous example” to agents and employees through his actions and warned that personal feelings were not enough of a reason to violate the policies of the FBI.
“[E]ven when these employees believe that their most strongly-held personal convictions might be served by an unauthorized disclosure, the FBI depends on them not to disclose sensitive information. Former Director Comey failed to live up to this responsibility,” the report said. “By not safeguarding sensitive information obtained during the course of his FBI employment, and by using it to create public pressure for official action, Comey set a dangerous example for the over 35,000 current FBI employees—and the many thousands more former FBI employees—who similarly have access to or knowledge of non-public information.”
Comey admitted to leaking in a 2017 Congressional hearing, saying he had hoped the information would lead to the appointment of a special counsel. With help from the tornado of media coverage following his leak, the Mueller investigation was born.
Comey, rather unsurprisingly, is now using the IG report to backtrack and claim he never leaked anything. He’s already asking for an apology.
DOJ 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." 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.
— James Comey (@Comey) August 29, 2019
However, the request for an apology is more than a little insulting because, according to FOX News, Comey included information in his memos that was “currently and properly classified.” And, as mentioned, he admitted to Congress he gave some of the information to a friend to give to the press. Requesting a third party leak something is still part of the leak. After all, his friend would never have had the information, nor taken it to the press, if Comey hadn’t supplied it and requested the hand off.
[C]omey’s memos included a slew of other secretive information, including the “code name and true identity” of a confidential source, according to a court-ordered filing by the Justice Department earlier this year.
Comey meticulously outlined “foreign intelligence information obtained from and through” the key human source, “information about whether the FBI initiated coverage through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) on a particular individual,” relevant “sources and methods” used in the FBI’s investigation, as well as “information concerning the President’s foreign policy decisionmaking,” according to the DOJ.
The Hill’s John Solomon reported in July that the DOJ declined to prosecute Comey based on the technicality that the information in the memos was only determined to be classified after the information had already been shared. They were also worried about optics.
Although a technical violation, the DOJ did not want to “make its first case against the Russia investigators with such thin margins and look petty and vindictive,” a source told me, explaining the DOJ’s rationale.
The broader IG probe into the origins of the Russia collusion investigation is ongoing, and Solomon reported that Comey and others in the agency could still face legal jeopardy for abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to obtain warrants to spy on the Trump campaign.