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Ex-FBI Director Comey violated DOJ policies in handling Trump memos, inspector general says

Key Points
  • Former FBI Director James Comey violated Justice Department and FBI policies in his handling of memos documenting conversations with President Trump, the DOJ's Office of Inspector General says.
  • Comey, who was fired by Trump in May 2017, is not being prosecuted for the alleged violations detailed in the scathing report.
  • "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 says.
James Comey testified in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee last June.
Cheriss May | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Former FBI Director James Comey violated Department of Justice and FBI policies, as well as his employment agreement, in his handling of memos documenting conversations with President Donald Trump, the DOJ's inspector general said Thursday.

But Comey — who Trump fired in May 2017 after allegedly pressuring the FBI chief to drop a investigation into Trump former national security adviser Michael Flynn — is not being prosecuted for the alleged violations detailed in the scathing report by the Inspector General's Office.

The report focused on Comey's "disclosure of sensitive investigative information and handling of certain memoranda," which included how he created, stored and handled seven memos detailing "one-to-one" interactions with Trump between January and April 2017.

"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 said.

In one of the memos, Comey claims that Trump asked him to shut down an investigation into Flynn.

"I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go," Trump said, according to Comey's memos.

Comey, after being fired, asked his friend Daniel Richman, a Columbia University Law professor, to share the contents of that memo with The New York Times, which published an article entitled, "Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation."

Comey had told the IG's office that his goal in having Richman leak the memo's contents was to spur the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Trump's actions. Ex-FBI director Robert Mueller was in fact appointed special counsel not long after Comey's firing.

Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russia's ambassador to the United States shortly before Trump's inauguration. That case against Flynn was lodged by Mueller's office.

The IG's report faulted Comey for passing the information to Richman, as well as for mishandling the other memos. Comey and Richman were interviewed by the IG's office as part of the investigation, along with 15 other people.

The watchdog's office noted that it had "previously faulted Comey for acting unilaterally and inconsistent with Department policy" — referring to Comey's press conference several months before the 2016 election, in which he slammed presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for her handling of government emails, while also asserting that she should not be prosecuted for her conduct.

"Comey's unauthorized disclosure of sensitive law enforcement information about the Flynn investigation merits similar criticism," the report said.

"We conclude that Comey's retention, handling, and dissemination of certain Memos violated Department and FBI policies, and his FBI Employment Agreement," the report said.

"Upon completing its investigation, the OIG provided its factual findings to the Justice Department for a prosecutorial decision regarding Comey's conduct, as required by the Inspector General Act," the report said.

"After reviewing the matter, the DOJ declined prosecution."

Comey immediately responded on Twitter to the report.

Within hours, Trump attacked Comey on Twitter.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, in a prepared statement, said, "James Comey is a proven liar and leaker. The Inspector General's report shows Comey violated the most basic obligations of confidentiality that he owed to the United States Government and to the American people, "in order to achieve a personally desired outcome."

"Because Comey shamefully leaked information to the press—in blatant violation of FBI policies—the Nation was forced to endure the baseless politically motivated, two-year witch hunt," Grisham said. "Comey disgraced himself and his office to further a personal political agenda, and this report further confirms that fact."

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James Comey used his Gmail for FBI business

The report noted that Comey had considered five of the memos about discussions with Trump "to be his personal documents," created three of the memos "on his personal laptop computers" and "kept signed originals of four of the Memos ... in his personal safe at home while he was serving as FBI Director."

He kept those copies even after being fired, and did not report that fact to the FBI.

A month after his termination, Comey provided copies of four of his memos to Mueller, the report said.

Comey also used his personal scanner and private email account to provide copies of several memos to his personal attorneys after being fired.

One of the memos contained six words that the FBI determined in June 2017 "to be classified at the 'CONFIDENTIAL' level," the report said, while two other memos contained information determined to be "For Official Use Only."

By instructing Richman to share the contents of one of the memos with the media, the report accused Comey of violating department policies "in order to achieve a personally desired outcome."

"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," the report said.

"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," the IG's office said.

In an NBC interview shortly after firing Comey Trump said: "When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story."

That same month, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein tapped Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russia's interference in the 2016 election and possible coordination between the Kremlin and Trump's campaign.

Republican lawmakers, who have long been intensely critical of Comey, were quick to chime in after the report's release Thursday.

Rep. Jim Jordan, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's ranking Republican member, said in a statement that Comey "put partisanship and personal ambition over patriotism and his legal obligations to the American people."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of Trump's closest and most loyal supporters in Congress, tore into Comey in a series of tweets.