The Justice Department Inspector General (IG) had harsh words for former FBI Director James Comey, saying that by maintaining a set of contemporaneous memos detailing meetings with President Trump in early 2017 and leaking them, he violated FBI policy, though the IG report released Thursday found “no evidence that Comey or his attorneys released any of the classified information contained in any of the memos” to the media.
By disclosing the contents of one of the memos, “Comey made public sensitive investigative information related to an ongoing FBI investigation, information he had properly declined to disclose while still FBI Director during his March 20, 2017, congressional testimony,” the IG report said.
The report noted that because the FBI in the course of its investigations gains access to sensitive information on people, many who aren’t charged, “the civil liberties of every individual who may fall within the scope of the FBI’s investigative authorities depend on the [agency’s] ability to protect sensitive information from unauthorized disclosure.”
Comey, the IG said, “failed to live up to this responsibility” and by using information “to create public pressure for official action,” he “set a dangerous example.”
The IG dispatched its findings earlier in the summer to the Justice Department, which declined to pursue charges against Comey because there was no evidence the former FBI director, who was fired by Trump as he investigated Russian inference in the U.S. presidential election and any possible collusion by the Trump campaign, meant to break the law concerning classified information.
A series of meetings and phone calls between Trump and Comey over the course of roughly four months spurred the former FBI director to memorialize in writing presidential requests to drop an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who ended up pleading guilty to one felony count charge of making false statements to the FBI regarding his own dealings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and to make public that Trump wasn’t under a counterintelligence investigation.
In June 8, 2017 testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Comey said that he’d shared the memos with a professor friend at Columbia Law School in an effort to “prompt the appointment of a special counsel” after he became concerned that Trump was trying to obstruct the Russia probe. “The president tweeted on Friday [May 12], after I got fired, that I had better hope there’s not tapes” of earlier private meetings between the two in which Comey believed Trump was pressuring him to end the investigation, Comey told the senators.
“I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night, because it didn’t dawn on me originally that there might be corroboration for our conversation. There might be a tape,” he said. That consideration prompted him to share his notes on those meetings.
Comey’s testimony drove Justice Department attorney James Baker and former FBI agent Peter Strzok to contact Comey’s Columbia Law friend, Daniel Richman, and instruct him to “please preserve” the memos, the IG report said.
In July 2017, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe referred the matter to the IG’s office for investigation.
The IG found that the memos, some of which contained confidential or otherwise classified information, were FBI, not personal, records as Comey had contended. Each memo recounted a meeting that took place with Trump as president or president-elect, “because of Comey’s official position as Director of the FBI” and thereby were governed by FBI policy regarding the handling and release of information.
“Further, much of the content of the Memos was directly tied to FBI investigative activities,” such as references to a potential probe of “salacious” data in the Steele dossier and Trump’s entreaties to Comey to see his “way clear…to letting Flynn go.”