White House again suggests Comey may have broken the law by releasing Trump notes

Key Points
  • The White House suggests that former FBI Director James Comey broke federal law but stops short of saying he should be prosecuted.
  • Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders contends that Trump has been vindicated in his decision to fire Comey.
  • The question of whether Comey broke the law is much less clear than Sanders makes it seem, according to one expert.
White House again suggests Comey may have broken the law

For the second straight day, The White House on Wednesday strongly suggested that former FBI Director James Comey broke the law when he shared information from memos about his conversations with President Donald Trump.

While she contended that the president has been fully vindicated in his decision to fire Comey in May, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stopped short of recommending that the Justice Department prosecute the former FBI chief.

"The Department of Justice has to look into any allegations of ... whether or not something's illegal or not. That's not up to me to decide," Sanders told reporters. "What I've said and what I'm talking about are facts. James Comey — leaking of information, questionable statements under oath, politicizing an investigation. Those are real reasons for why he was fired, and the president's decision was 100 percent right."

On Tuesday, Sanders said the Justice Department "should certainly look at" prosecuting Comey.

A Justice Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request to comment on whether the department feels Comey should be prosecuted or if the White House has recommended he should be.

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Trump terminated Comey in May as the FBI investigated Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin. The White House said Trump made the decision because of the Justice Department's criticism of how Comey handled the Clinton email investigation, but Trump personally contradicted the explanation.

At least one of the reasons Sanders listed for why Comey got fired — his admission that he shared information from the memos — came after Trump had already fired him.

On Wednesday, Sanders suggested that Comey broke federal law when he shared the explosive contents of memos he wrote about one-on-one interactions with Trump. Comey admitted under oath to releasing the contents of some memos to a friend, but said he made sure to write those memos in a way that they would not be marked as classified. Comey has said he did nothing wrong by sharing the information.

Sanders accused Comey of "leaking FBI memos."

"The memos that Comey leaked were created on an FBI computer while he was the director. He claims they were private property but they clearly followed the protocol of an official FBI document," Sanders said. "Leaking FBI memos on a sensitive case, regardless of classification, violates federal laws, including the Privacy Act, standard FBI employment agreement and nondisclosure agreement all personnel must sign. I think that's pretty clean and clear that that would be a violation."

The question of whether Comey broke the law is much less clear than Sanders made it seem, said Jeffrey Cramer, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois and a managing director at Berkeley Research Group.

"Telling others what the president said is not 'leaking information' unless it was classified in some fashion," Cramer wrote in an email. "The White House uses 'leaking of information' as a throw-away line but it has a legal definition and Jim Comey did not violate the law based upon telling others what the president said to him."

Cramer added that using an FBI computer to write the memos does not necessarily mean that Comey violated the bureau's rules.

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