Fired FBI Director James B. Comey didn’t leak classified information to the press, but he mishandled his memos detailing conversations with President Trump and jeopardized the FBI’s investigation by giving non-secret details to reporters for his personal gain, an inspector general concluded Thursday.
The 83-page report by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog accused Mr. Comey of hypocrisy, saying he preached integrity of investigations even as he was leaking information from the probes.
“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,” the inspector general concluded.
Investigators said Mr. Comey did provide classified information from the memos to his legal team. Some information from the memos was leaked, on Mr. Comey’s orders, though that didn’t include the small classified portions.
The fact that James Comey was not prosecuted for the absolutely horrible things he did just shows how fair and reasonable Attorney General Bill Barr is. So many people and experts that I have watched and read would have taken an entirely different course. Comey got Lucky!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2019
Still, the former director’s behavior did violate FBI policy in keeping the memos for his personal use and in releasing them without authorization.
Investigators said they referred their findings to the Justice Department, citing several laws that the former director may have violated. The department declined to prosecute Mr. Comey.
On Twitter, Mr. Comey characterized the report as vindication because it concluded he didn’t leak classified information.
“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 said. “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.”
If that was meant as an invitation for a mea culpa from Mr. Trump, it didn’t work.
“Perhaps never in the history of our Country has someone been more thoroughly disgraced and excoriated than James Comey in the just released Inspector General’s Report,” the president said in his distinctive Twitter style. “He should be ashamed of himself!”
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said the report found Mr. Comey misused his confidential communications with the president for personal gain.
“His actions were disgraceful and part of a wider effort within the Obama Justice Department to undermine President Trump,” Mr. Jordan said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the inspector general’s report was “a stunning and unprecedented rebuke” of someone who used to lead the country’s preeminent law enforcement agency.
Rep. Paul A. Gosar, Arizona Republican, was more direct: “To call James Comey a clown would be offensive to the carnival community.”
Investigators said Mr. Comey was guilty of hypocrisy, having extolled the importance of respecting the rules yet breaking them when he felt it would advance his own interests.
They rejected his defense that he was acting out of patriotism, saying if every FBI employee followed that rule, then it would leave the bureau unable to operate.
The inspector general’s report is part of a broader investigation into the way the FBI handled Mr. Trump both during the 2016 presidential campaign and as it investigated Russian meddling in the election.
The memos are a small but fascinating part of that.
Mr. Comey wrote them after seven of his nine one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump from the presidential transition period through his firing in May 2017.
The first memo documented Mr. Comey’s astounding initial meeting with Mr. Trump on Jan. 7, 2017, when he informed the president-elect of contents of the so-called Steele dossier, a now largely discredited document that suggested Russian officials had dirt on Mr. Trump but which the FBI treated as valid evidence in 2016.
Mr. Comey did officially mark that memo “Secret.”
Officials later designated parts of Memos 2, 3 and 7 as “classified.”
The memos generally detailed conversations with Mr. Trump about Mr. Comey’s future at the FBI and aspects of the ongoing counterintelligence investigation aimed at Trump associates, officially known in the FBI as “Crossfire Hurricane.” Mr. Trump was not told of the investigation.
Mr. Comey kept copies of Memos 2,4, 6 and 7 after he was fired from the FBI, violating policy and the terms of employment he signed. If he wanted to keep copies, then he should have asked permission, the inspector general said. But investigators said Mr. Comey didn’t tell anyone he kept copies, even though FBI employees went to his home to remove all FBI property.
He also broke the rules when he told a friend of his, who was acting as his attorney, to provide some of the contents of Memo 4 to The New York Times in May 2017, the report concluded.
In that memo, written on Valentine’s Day in 2017, Mr. Comey acknowledged he was beginning to gather information to protect himself. He said he left out some information to keep the memo unclassified, specifically so he could keep it at his home.
Just two months earlier, Mr. Comey “properly” declined to reveal the information from that memo when asked by Congress, but he had it leaked for his own purposes after his firing, the investigators said.
Mr. Comey told investigators he saw himself in a unique position to defend the country. He said he leaked the information to try to pressure the Justice Department to name a special counsel to investigate Mr. Trump.
That is indeed what happened, with the special counsel finally completing the investigation this year.
The probe found there wasn’t evidence to accuse Mr. Trump of conspiring with Russia to subvert the 2016 election, though there was suspicious behavior in the president’s attempts to thwart the investigation. The Justice Department concluded that there was no chargeable crime.
David Stebenne, a professor at Ohio State University who specializes in history of the FBI, said Mr. Comey’s “lack of contrition” about the report Thursday was surprising.
“He’s claiming he’s vindicated because the documents weren’t classified. That doesn’t mean what he was doing was right. There is something strange about that, and it doesn’t look good for him or the FBI,” the professor said.
Mr. Stebenne said Mr. Comey has become “a man without a country,” lacking defenders in either party because Democrats still hold his conduct of the Hillary Clinton email investigation against him, some blaming him for her election defeat.
Mr. Comey appears to be more interested in promoting himself, Mr. Stebenne said.
“In a sense, he has profited from what he did, and that bothers a lot of people,” he said. “You are not supposed to write a tell-all or tell-some as an ex-FBI director. FBI directors are supposed to keep secrets.”
Lew Schiliro, former head of the FBI’s New York field office, said Mr. Comey injected politics into something that should have been free from that taint.
“It goes beyond what any FBI director or agent would do. I look at what he did, and I just don’t understand it,” he said. “He violated an FBI policy. If he thinks this report is vindication, then he needs to take another look at it. He should apologize to the American people for what he did to the FBI. It was under his watch that people were sending inappropriate text messages. It was under his watch we had the politicization of the FBI. He ought to thank his lucky stars he’s not being prosecuted.”
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