Liberal Cable Show Defends Comey, Blasts IG's 'Howl of Anger and Rage'

By Susan Jones | August 30, 2019 | 8:16am EDT
MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and guest Ben Wittes criticized the IG report on James Comey's failure to live up to his professional responsibility and the "dangerous" precedent that Comey set by leaking "sensitive information" for personal reasons. (Photo: Screen capture)

( - Liberal cable shows -- Rachel Maddow's on MSNBC and Chris Cuomo's on CNN among them -- completely ignored the critical report on former FBI Director James Comey released Thursday by the Justice Department inspector general. It was never mentioned Thursday night.

Friday morning cable shows downplayed the story, with MSNBC's "Morning Joe" putting more blame on the inspector general than on Comey.

"What a fascinating report, about 80-, 90-percent of it is 'Jack Webb, just-the-facts, ma'am,' and then the last 10 percent of the report reads like a talk radio script," "Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough said on Friday.

"The two don't go together...But this report -- I mean, coming from an inspector general, I was fairly shocked at how undisciplined he was with what our law professors would call dicta."

NBC/MSNBC law analyst and editor-in-chief of Lawfare, Ben Wittes, was invited on the show to back up the host's opinion:

"Yeah, it's a deficient piece of work product in the last ten pages," Wittes said.

Wittes called the first 52 pages of the report "quite informative and a pretty dry recitation of a whole lot of details about the facts that we already knew. And the reason we knew them is of course because Jim Comey has been nothing but upfront about what he did."

Wittes continued:

He (Comey) wrote seven memos detailing his interactions with President Trump. He -- two of those memos he considered classified and left only in the FBI but several of them he regarded as unclassified and had copies at his house and sort of thought of as his own personal property and didn't return when he left or was removed from the FBI.

One of those he turned around and asked a friend...a friend named Dan Richman, to give the substance of to "The New York Times," and some others he gave to his lawyers. Those were the facts, those were always the facts, and the first 50 some odd pages of this report simply lays out in great detail -- in much greater detail than most people want to read.

And then the last ten pages are sort of a howl of rage and anger by the inspector general that is really -- you know, takes a remarkable position, in my opinion anyway, that it is inappropriate for the former director of the FBI to blow the whistle on the president's efforts to shut down the Michael Flynn investigation. And to me, the remarkable thing about this report is that the inspector general of the justice department has effectively taken the position that if you're a law enforcement officer and the president tries to shut down a valid investigation, your obligation is to shut up.

In fact, the last ten pages of the report include the IG's conclusion 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 the Justice Department will not criminally prosecute him.

But Wittes called the report's conclusion "genuinely bewildering."

"The inspector general sort of chides Comey for kind of not going through channels in raising the concerns about, you know, the Oval Office meeting in which the president asked him to shut down the Michael Flynn investigation. And, you know, I sort of scratch my head and say exactly what channel is he supposed to have gone through?"

(For the record, the FBI launched a counterintelligence investigation into Trump after Comey was fired, so Comey could have turned to his former colleagues, or even to the Justice Department inspector-general.)

Wittes made the point that Comey couldn't complain to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself from the Trump-Russia investigation, nor could he complain to Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had fired Comey at President Trump's direction.

So what exactly are you supposed to do if you're the former FBI director who has this explosive information that is, by the way, not classified, and you have -- all the channels have failed? And that strikes me as the sort of the quintessential example of a situation in which talking to the press, or in this case, having a friend convey some information to a responsible reporter is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

And the IG's position is, you know, to sort wag his finger and say this violates your employment agreement and it violates FBI policy. And I guess to that I say like, you know, in such a situation a foolish consistency with policy really would be the hobgoblin of small minds. And I'm actually a little bit surprised that that's the position the IG takes.

Wittes admitted that he doesn't "fault the IG" for noting Comey's "technical violations of policy in the employment agreement." He also said the IG "probably has the better of the argument" in saying that the FBI, not Comey, owns the memos Comey wrote, and some of which he took home.

But, added Wittes, "What's extraordinary about the IG report is the volume that he turns up the criticism to, without any regard to the extraordinary circumstances. And he basically -- it reads like he wanted to find that Comey had leaked classified information in a dangerous fashion. He couldn't find that because, you know, he didn't. And -- but he gets angry that way anyway, as though it had happened.

"And so I think the message to current workforce members is, you know, be a stickler for the details of compliance with technical rules, even if the house is burning down, even if you're serving some awful larger objective in doing so. And ignore things like conscience."

For the record, the IG's conclusion reads as follows:

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 [in announcing the results of the Clinton email investigtion]. 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.


MRC Store