Top FBI officials made copies of memos written by former Director James Comey on his meetings with President Donald Trump and hid those copies “in remote locations around the bureau,” aiming to shield them from the administration.
CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin revealed the steps FBI brass took to protect its investigation into alleged ties between the Trump administration and Russia in Toobin’s new book, “TRUE CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS: The Investigation of Donald Trump.” CNN published an excerpt of the book on Thursday.
In early 2017 after Trump took office, then-FBI Director James Comey feared that Trump would quash an ongoing investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 election. The investigation was almost solely based on the debunked Steele dossier.
Comey’s fear drove him to write memos on conversations he had with the president and share those memos with top FBI staff. After Comey’s ouster from the bureau in May 2017, top FBI officials worried that they would be next and took steps to shield the Russia investigation.
Toobin writes in his upcoming book:
The FBI took extraordinary – and previously undisclosed – steps to protect its investigations.
From Comey’s first meetings with Trump, shortly after he won the presidency, the FBI director developed misgivings about his new boss’ behavior – about Trump’s demands for “loyalty,” and even more unnerving, his request that the Bureau drop its investigation of Flynn. Comey’s conversations with Trump had been so distressing that the director started writing up contemporaneous summaries of their interactions and sharing them with a handful of top officials at the Bureau. Now, suddenly, Comey was out – and the question arose of what to do with his memos about his conversations with the President.
Andrew McCabe served as Comey’s deputy director and became acting director for the bureau after Comey was fired. McCabe made the first moves to hide the memos.
Given the wild pace of events, McCabe couldn’t be sure how long he’d last as director, so he wanted to lock down as much evidence as possible. Most important, he told the investigating agents to place Comey’s memos in SENTINEL, the FBI’s case management software. McCabe knew that once documents were inside the system, they were virtually impossible to remove. With Comey’s memos in the system, the investigators were certain to have access to them – even if McCabe himself would eventually be gone.
Indeed, FBI officials even went a step farther. Once McCabe became director, Bureau employees grew so concerned that Trump would try to shut down the investigation that they secreted at least three copies of key documents, including Comey’s memos, in remote locations around the Bureau. This was to make sure that in the event Trump directed an end to these inquiries, the documents could always be preserved, located, and shared.
After Comey was removed from his post, he took steps to ensure that his memos would be uncovered by leaking the contents of those memos to a journalist. The former FBI director admitted to leaking the memos, which contained classified information, to a friend who gave the information to a reporter.