Comey violated FBI policy in handling of memos detailing interactions with Trump, inspector general finds
© J. Scott Applewhite/AP Former FBI Director James B. Comey in 2018.
Former FBI Director James B. Comey violated FBI policies in how he handled memos that detailed his controversial interactions with President Trump, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog found in a report released Thursday, both in engineering the release of their contents to the press and storing them at his home without telling the FBI.
The inspector general found that the memos — which described, among other things, how Trump had pressed Comey for loyalty and asked him about letting go an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn — were official records, and as such, Comey’s treatment of them broke the rules.
The former FBI director gave one of the memos — which included information the inspector general called “sensitive,” but unclassified — to a friend and authorized him to share its contents. He also stored four of the documents in a safe in his personal home and provided copies to his personal attorneys without FBI authorization, the inspector general found.
One of those memos shared with the attorneys was later determined to contain information, such as the names of foreign countries being discussed by Trump, that was classified as confidential, the lowest level of secrecy, the inspector general wrote.
On Twitter, Comey noted that the inspector general found “no evidence” that he or his attorneys released any classified information 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 wrote. “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.”
The report is the second time Inspector General Michael Horowitz has criticized Comey for how he handled FBI business during his abbreviated tenure in charge of the bureau. Last summer, Horowitz lambasted Comey for his leadership of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state, accusing him of insubordination and flouting Justice Department policies in deciding only he had the authority and credibility to make key decisions on the case and speak about it publicly.
The inspector general wrote that its office gave its findings to the Justice Department to determine if Comey had committed a crime, and officials declined to prosecute the case. But that Comey had in his possession material that was later deemed classified and shared it with his lawyers is sure to rankle conservatives and liberals alike.
It was Comey, after all, who said Clinton and her aides were “extremely careless” in their handling of classified information. Many Clinton supporters say the FBI’s investigation into that matter — and Comey’s revelation on the eve of the election that the closed cased was resuming — cost her the presidency.
Comey’s handling of the memos has long been a source of controversy — particularly among conservatives upset over how the release of their contents affected the Trump presidency. Comey wrote seven in total, the inspector general wrote, documenting a series of meetings with Trump in early 2017, just before he was fired.
Those meetings would become a critical focus of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into whether Trump had sought to obstruct justice. The memos detailed how the president had pressed Comey for “loyalty” and asked he if could let go the Flynn investigation.
The New York Times made some of their contents public on May 11, 2017, publishing a story about how — at a private dinner — Trump asked him for the loyalty pledge. Comey would later admit he had engineered the release of that information through a friend, Columbia Law School Professor Daniel Richman, who had served as a special government employee at the FBI while Comey was director.
Comey left three of the seven memos he wrote at the FBI, believing some of them contained classified information, the inspector general wrote. He kept original copies of four in a personal safe at his home, and gave copies of those to his attorneys after Trump fired him from the FBI, the inspector general wrote.
Of those memos that he gave to his attorneys, two had classified information — though Comey redacted the material from one of them, the inspector general wrote. The other, the inspector general wrote, had six words the FBI determined to be confidential. The memo shared with Richman was determined to be “For Official Use Only,” but did not contain classified information, the inspector general wrote.