DOJ OIG: Comey Failed in His Responsibility, 'Set a Dangerous Example,' in Leaking Sensitive Information

Susan Jones | August 29, 2019 | 10:42am EDT
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Former FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)

( - The Justice Department inspector general on Thursday released a report describing its investigation into the "creation, storage and handling" of memos written by former FBI Director James Comey, including the one Comey admits he leaked to a friend for transmittal to the New York Times.

The OIG report concludes that Comey failed to live up to his responsibility to protect sensitive information; and by using sensitive information to force the appointment of a special prosecutor, the OIG found that 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 did not find that Comey leaked classified information, and there is no criminal referral.

The seven memos, recording Comey’s interactions with Donald Trump before and after Trump became president, were written by Comey between January 6, 2017, and April 11, 2017.

Some of the information in those memos was marked as classified by Comey himself.

In its investigation, the OIG said, "The FBI determined that Memos 1 and 3 contained information classified at the “SECRET” level, and that Memos 2 and 7 contained small amounts of information classified at the “CONFIDENTIAL” level.

Memo 4 -- the one Comey arrranged to have leaked to the press -- did not contain classified information.

Here's the pertinent part of the OIG's conclusions:


[A]fter his removal as FBI Director...Comey provided a copy of Memo 4, which Comey had kept without authorization, to [his friend] Richman with instructions to share the contents with a reporter for The New York Times. Memo 4 included information that was related to both the FBI's ongoing investigation of Flynn and, by Comey’s own account, information that he believed and alleged constituted evidence of an attempt to obstruct the ongoing Flynn investigation; later that same day, The New York Times published an article about Memo 4 entitled, “Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation.”

The responsibility to protect sensitive law enforcement information falls in large part to the employees of the FBI who have access to it through their daily duties. On occasion, some of these employees may disagree with decisions by prosecutors, judges, or higher ranking FBI and Department officials about the actions to take or not take in criminal and counterintelligence matters. They may even, in some situations, distrust the legitimacy of those supervisory, prosecutorial, or judicial decisions.

But even when these employees believe that their most strongly-held personal convictions might be served by an unauthorized disclosure, the FBI depends on them not to disclose sensitive information. Former Director Comey failed to live up to this responsibility.

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.

Comey said he was compelled to take these actions “if I love this country...and I love the Department of Justice, and I love the FBI.” However, were current or former FBI employees to follow the former Director's example and disclose sensitive information in service of their own strongly held personal convictions, the FBI would be unable to dispatch its law enforcement duties properly, as Comey himself noted in his March 20, 2017 congressional testimony.

Comey expressed a similar concern to President Trump, according to Memo 4, in discussing leaks of FBI information, telling Trump that the FBI's ability to conduct its work is compromised “if people run around telling the press what we do.” This is no doubt part of the reason why Comey’s closest advisors used the words “surprised,” “stunned,” “shocked,” and “disappointment” to describe their reactions to learning what Comey had done.

We have previously faulted Comey for acting unilaterally and inconsistent with Department policy. Comey’s unauthorized disclosure of sensitive law enforcement information about the Flynn investigation merits similar criticism. In a country built on the rule of law, it is of utmost importance that all FBI employees adhere to Department and FBI policies, particularly when confronted by what appear to be extraordinary circumstances or compelling personal convictions.

Comey had several other lawful options available to him to advocate for the appointment of a Special Counsel, which he told us was his goal in making the disclosure. What was not permitted was the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive investigative information, obtained during the course of FBI employment, in order to achieve a personally desired outcome.

The OIG has provided this report to the FBI and to the Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility for action they deem appropriate.

Comey responded via Twitter on Thursday:

DOJ IG "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." 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.

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.

Justice Department Inspector-General Michael Horowitz has not yet released his report on alleged FISA abuse involving a Trump campaign volunteer. Those FISA warrants on Carter Page, reportedly based on unverified information, were signed by Comey and other FBI and DOJ officials.  Additional OIG reports are expected in the weeks ahead.

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