A scathing report released Thursday by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General found former FBI Director James Comey violated bureau policies and his employment agreement with his handling of official memos.
The investigation concerned memos detailing Comey’s interactions and conversations with President Trump.
“We conclude that Comey’s retention, handling, and dissemination of certain Memos violated Department and FBI policies, and his FBI Employment Agreement,” the report states. It noted that “much of the content of the Memos was directly tied to FBI investigative activities.”
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz declined to make a recommendation as to whether to charge the former FBI chief. But he said Comey broke FBI policies by seeking to share unauthorized information about ongoing investigations with a friend — who then gave the information to The New York Times two months after Comey was removed from the FBI by Trump.
Comey was removed from the FBI as the agency investigated Russia’s intervention in the 2016 presidential election. His firing immediately raised questions about whether Trump was seeking to obstruct an investigation into the election.
The leaking of the memos that Comey gave to his friend, Columbia University law professor Daniel Richman, were intended to prompt the appointment of a special counsel, according to Comey. That came pass when the Justice Department (DOJ) appointed special counsel Robert Mueller.
The report states that Comey provided Richman with one unclassified memo that contained sensitive information with instructions to share its contents with a reporter. The memo, which contained details about a conversation Comey had with Trump regarding the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, did not contain classified information but was determined by the bureau to be “for official use only.”
In that February 2017 conversation, Comey says that Trump told him that he wished the FBI director would let go of the investigation into Flynn‚ something Comey took as a direction.
Trump has refuted his account and called Comey a liar.
Comey told the inspector general that he needed to leak the memo because it was something he was "uniquely situated to do, because [he was] now a private citizen" and that it concerned an issue of "incredible importance to the Nation, as a whole," according to the report.
Horowitz refuted Comey’s claims that his memos were not FBI records but personal recollections, stating that the director was operating in an official capacity and that he acknowledged in his FBI Employment Agreement that “[a]ll information acquired by [Comey] in connection with [his] official duties with the FBI...remain[s] the property of the United States of America.”
“Former Director Comey failed to live up to this responsibility,” the 83-page report says. “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 notes that the inspector general found no evidence that Comey or his attorneys shared classified information from the memos with members of the media.
The inspector general also found that Comey kept copies of four of the seven memos he wrote in a personal safe at his home and after his removal violated policies and his employee agreement by failing to either immediately notify the FBI he had retained such records or seek permission to keep them.
The inspector general also faulted Comey for sharing the memos with his three private lawyers without FBI permission, and for not alerting the bureau about the disclosure when he learned that it had determined one of the memos included several words that were classified as confidential.
These include the names of foreign countries being discussed by Trump.
The FBI discovered through a classification review that two of the memos Comey retained at his home contained information classified as confidential. Comey provided copies of both of these memos to his attorneys, but self-redacted sensitive information from one of them.
“We found it particularly concerning that Comey did not tell anyone from the FBI that he had retained copies of the Memos in his personal safe at home, even when his Chief of Staff, the FBI's Associate Deputy Director, and three [secret service agents] came to Comey’s house on May 12, 2017, to inventory and remove all FBI property,” the report says.
Comey reacted to the release of the report on Twitter, noting that the inspector general did not find evidence that he leaked classified material to the media and calling out allies of Trump who have predicted he would “go to jail.”
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,” Comey tweeted.
“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,” he added..
The release of the report caps a two-year-long investigation into Comey’s handling of memos related to his interactions with Trump, which the inspector general initiated on a recommendation from the FBI in July 2017 after the officials determined he may have shared memos containing classified information with people outside the bureau.
Comey said during public testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee the month before the FBI referred the matter to the inspector general that he showed copies of his memos to a friend outside the Justice Department, who then shared it with a reporter, after the president made comments suggesting he had taped their conversations.
“I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. Didn't do it myself, for a variety of reasons. But I asked him to, because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel. And so I asked a friend of mine to do it,” Comey told the committee in June 2017.
According to the inspector general, Comey’s public disclosure was the first time the FBI learned he had shared memos cataloguing his interactions with the president with anyone outside the bureau.
Comey, who has argued that he had the authority to decide what information should be treated as classified in his memos, has maintained he did not disclose classified information when he gave at least one “single unclassified memo” of his memos to Richman, who leaked its contents verbally to a reporter at The New York Times.
Trump and his GOP allies have gone after Comey, accusing him of illegally leaking classified information.
“James Comey Memos just out and show clearly that there was NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION. Also, he leaked classified information. WOW! Will the Witch Hunt continue?” Trump tweeted last year.
The president ousted Comey dramatically in May 2017, pinning the decision on a memo written by then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that faulted Comey for his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Trump later indicated during a television interview that the Russia investigation factored into his decision-making.
Comey’s firing eventually paved the way for the appointment of Mueller as special counsel to investigate whether there was coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow in Russia’s election meddling campaign. Mueller, whose report was released by the Justice Department earlier this year, did not find evidence to charge associates of the Trump campaign with conspiring with Russia to interfere in the election.
Mueller also investigated whether Trump obstructed justice, and did not reach a conclusion either way on the question because of the Justice Department legal opinion stating a sitting president cannot be indicted. House Democrats are currently weighing impeachment of Trump related to Mueller’s findings.
Horowitz’s report comes after he issued a separate report faulting Comey for poor judgment while leading the FBI’s probe into Clinton’s handling of classified materials while secretary of state, though the IG said he found no evidence that Comey’s key decisions in the email probe were improperly influenced by political bias.