Former FBI Director James Comey violated the Bureau’s policies when he instructed his friend to provide copies of memos including sensitive information to a reporter, a report from the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has concluded.
The report includes a laundry list of Comey’s violations related to the investigation into whether President Donald Trump colluded with Russia to steal the presidency. Despite the many violations, the DOJ declined to prosecute Comey for his actions.
“Comey’s actions with respect to the Memos violated Department and FBI policies concerning the retention, handling, and dissemination of FBI records and information, and violated the requirements of Comey’s FBI Employment Agreement,” the report says.
The “memos” mentioned by the report refer to five separate memos Comey wrote within the first three months of the Trump administration, one phone call he had with Trump shortly before he was inaugurated, and one phone call with Trump after he became president. Comey did not write memos following the two phone calls.
Comey also “violated Department and FBI policies, and the terms of his FBI Employment Agreement, by retaining copies of Memos 2, 4, 6, and 7 after he was removed as Director, regardless of each Memo’s classification level,” the report continues. Comey was required to return all official FBI documents when he left office. Comey told the OIG that he considered the memos to be “personal records,” but the OIG found no legal basis for him to consider them so.
The OIG also faulted Comey for failing to “tell anyone from the FBI that he had retained copies of the Memos in his personal safe at home,” even though his chief of staff, associate deputy director, and three other officials went to his home “to inventory and remove all FBI property.”
Comey further violated Bureau policies when he sent a copy of a memo the former FBI director wrote the day after Michael Flynn resigned as Trump’s national security advisor to his friend with instructions to turn it over to a reporter for The New York Times. Comey had met with Trump that day and says in the memo that Trump asked him to “let this go,” referring to any criminal prosecution of Flynn over false statements he made regarding his conversations with the Russian ambassador. Comey also improperly sent copies of this memo and others to his attorneys.
“Comey violated FBI policy and the requirements of his FBI Employment Agreement when he chose this path,” the OIG report says. “By disclosing the contents of Memo 4, through [Daniel] Richman, to The New York Times, 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 report says that Comey was not authorized to disclose the statements he attributed to Trump.
The OIG report states that Comey also failed to immediately alert the FBI to the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.
The OIG slams Comey in its conclusion, saying the former FBI director “failed to live up to” the responsibility to protect sensitive law enforcement information.
“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 report concludes.
The report reminds readers that the OIG had “previously faulted Comey for acting unilaterally and inconsistent with Department policy.”
Comey responded to the report on Twitter. Quoting from the report, he said the OIG “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.”
Comey then said he doesn’t “need a public apology from those who defamed me, but a quick message with a ‘sorry we lied about you’ would be nice.”
While the OIG did find that neither Comey nor his attorneys released classified information to the media, the investigators did find — as mentioned above — that he provided sensitive information about an ongoing investigation to his friend Richman with instructions to share the contents of one of the memos with The New York Times. This is stated in the same paragraph from which Comey obtained his quote.
The OIG report is reminiscent of Comey’s 2016 press conference, wherein he outlined all the ways in which former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton violated federal policies by using an unsecured server and personal email address to conduct official business and handle classified information. After laying out all the evidence against Clinton, Comey said she would not be charged because she showed no “intent” to violate the policies, even though intent was not part of the statute.
In Comey’s case, there is clear intent on his part, yet still, he will not be prosecuted.
In response to the report, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, took Comey to task:
“Today’s report is a disappointing remind that the former FBI Director put partisanship and personal ambition over patriotism and his legal obligations to the American people. 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. His actions were disgraceful and part of a wider effort within the Obama Justice Department to undermine President Trump. I am grateful that the Inspector General brought these issues to light and look forward to his and Mr. Durham’s findings related to abuses of the FISA process.”
The last line referred to the separate investigations being conducted by the OIG and prosecutor John Durham into the origins of the Russian collusion investigation, which appears to have abused the FISA warrant application process by using unverified campaign opposition research and possible entrapment to spy on members of Trump’s 2016 campaign.