Justice finds ex-FBI director violated policy with Trump memos
WASHINGTON – Former FBI Director James Comey violated bureau policy by disclosing the contents of confidential memos detailing his interactions with President Donald Trump, but the Justice Department has declined to file charges in the case, according to an internal review by Justice’s inspector general.
In sharply-worded rebuke, the inspector general concluded that Comey, who was abruptly fired two years ago, broke with bureau rules by both authorizing the disclosure of the memos and by failing to notify the FBI that he had stored some of them at a home safe. Yet prosecutors found no reason to bring criminal charges.
“We 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 83-page report found, adding that the former director’s actions nonetheless “violated department and FBI policies and his FBI employment agreement.”
Within minutes of the report’s release, Comey took to Twitter, asserting that the report had absolved him of any wrongdoing.
“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,” the former director 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 information for so long, including the president,” he said.
Trump and Republican allies in Congress have been Comey’s primary adversary since the memos’ contents were made public, with the president repeatedly referring to him as “a liar” and calling for his prosecution.
Comey had memorialized his contacts with the president in seven memos, including a Jan. 27, 2017, dinner in which Trump requested that the FBI chief then-overseeing the Russia inquiry pledge his loyalty to Trump.
“I need loyalty, I expect loyalty,” Trump allegedly told the director, according to Comey’s written notes of the meeting.
In another Feb. 14, 2017, meeting documented by the director, the president allegedly asked Comey to shutdown the FBI’s then-pending inquiry into Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Flynn ultimately pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Following his firing, Comey told a Senate committee that he authorized the release of some the memos’ most explosive contents by asking an associate to provide the information to the New York Times. Comey told lawmakers that he had hoped the disclosure would prompt the appointment of a special counsel to oversee the Russia inquiry.
In interviews with Justice investigators, Comey justified his action, claiming that it was something he was “uniquely situated to do” as a private citizen and that by speaking up he could “change the game.”
Comey expected his effort would pressure leadership of the Justice Department, which he didn’t trust, according to the report.
He asserted that the memos’ contents held “incredible importance to the nation, as a whole” and that he took the action because “I love this country.”
Comey said he didn’t notify FBI leadership in advance of sharing the memos’ contents, because he didn’t want to put his colleagues “in an impossible situation” by asking them to approve his effort.
The former director acknowledged, as he did in testimony before a Senate committee two years ago, enlisting Daniel Richman, a friend and law professor, to pass along the contents of one of the memos to a New York Times reporter, unleashing a political and legal firestorm.
The report recounts a dramatic scene inside FBI headquarters during Comey’s June 8, 2017, testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee when officials first learned that the former director had gone through Richman to make some of the contents public while watching the hearing on television.
James Baker, then the bureau’s general counsel, told investigators that he remembered “literally running down the hallway” to his office, along with then-counter-intelligence agent Peter Strzok, to find Richman’s phone number so that they could direct him to preserve the material that Comey had given him.
While speaking with the two FBI officials, Richman agreed to give them the memo, and he “volunteered… that if you’re collecting that one, you should get the (other) three” he’d received from Comey, according to the report.
FBI agents later removed Richman’s desktop computer from his New York home on June 13, 2017, and returned it eight days later, when they asked him to permanently delete the picture of a Comey memo from his phone, according to the report.
The report’s reference to Strzok also is striking for different reasons.
Strzok, one of the primary agents involved in the FBI’s then-pending investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, was ultimately removed from the inquiry and dismissed from bureau, after the Justice inspector general discovered that he had exchanged text messages disparaging Trump with another FBI lawyer.
Disclosure of the texts prompted Trump and his Republican allies in Congress to wage a new war on the integrity of the Russia investigation.
Following Comey’s firing, former FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed to lead the inquiry which concluded in March and chronicled a broad Russian effort to sway the election in Trump’s favor, a campaign that appeared to welcome the assistance and aides who later lied to pretend they hadn’t.
Mueller, however, found insufficient evidence to link the president or his associates in a conspiracy with Russia. He also did not make a determination about whether Trump’s myriad attempts to derail the special counsel’s inquiry – including the president’s failed efforts to remove Mueller and Comey’s firing – constituted criminal obstruction.
Attorney General William Barr later intervened, ruling that Trump’s conduct was not criminal.
On Thursday, Republican lawmakers continued their public scoldings of Comey.
“The Inspector General’s report is a stunning and unprecedented rebuke of a former director of the FBI,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “This is the first of what I expect will be several more ugly and damning rebukes of senior DOJ and FBI officials regarding their actions and biases toward the Trump campaign of 2016.”
The inspector general also is reviewing whether the FBI abused its surveillance authority during the Russia inquiry.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, called the report a disappointing reminder that Comey put partisanship and personal ambition over his patriotism and legal obligations to the American public.
“By leaking his confidential communications with the president in an attempt to save face in the wake of his firing, Mr. Comey believed he was above the rules of the DOJ,” Jordan said. “His actions were disgraceful and part of a wider effort within the Obama Justice Department to undermine President Trump.”