OPINION | POTOMAC WATCH
Sneaky, Leaky James Comey
The inspector general takes apart the former FBI director’s excuses for his actions.
- Strassel Aug. 29, 2019 7:24 pm ET
Of all the tall tales James Comey has told, none compare to the line he fed President Trump at their infamous January 2017 dinner. As recounted in the former Federal Bureau of Investigation director’s memo about that evening, “I said I don’t do sneaky things, I don’t leak, I don’t do weasel moves.”
The Justice Department’s inspector general begs to diﬀer. In a new report about Mr. Comey’s handling of those memos, Michael Horowitz demonstrates that Mr. Comey in 2017 was consistently leaky and sneaky. The report refutes any claim that the then-director was justified in taking these actions. He repeatedly, and knowingly, broke the rules.
For more than two years, we’ve heard Mr. Comey’s characterization of his actions, popularized by an adoring media: He felt compelled to memorialize his private discussions with the president, to protect the FBI. He had no choice but to use an intermediary to leak memo contents, to save the nation by forcing the appointment of a special counsel. He was entitled to do so because the memos were his personal papers, and by that time he was a “private citizen.”
The inspector general calmly and coolly dismantles these claims. There’s good reason to suspect Mr. Trump was the focus of the bureau’s counterintelligence probe from the start, since that is the only way to explain the FBI’s outrageous decision to hide the probe from the president. The inspector general reports that Mr. Comey’s first briefing of the president-elect, on Jan. 6, 2017, was partly done in the hope that “Trump might make statements about, or provide information of value to,” that probe. That may be the real reason everyone on the FBI leadership team agreed “ahead of time that Comey should memorialize” what happened.
Mr. Horowitz’s report methodically skewers Mr. Comey’s claim that his memos were “personal” and therefore his to keep and use. It notes that he interacted with Mr. Trump only in his capacity as the FBI director, in oﬃcial settings. He shared the memos with senior FBI leaders. Some memos touch on oﬃcial investigations, while others contain classified information, which “is never considered personal property.” The report makes clear Mr. Comey knew his claim that the memos were personal was a sham. That characterization, Mr. Horowitz writes, is “wholly incompatible with the plain language of the statutes, regulations, and policies defining Federal records.”
Mr. Comey’s attempt to dig himself out of his disingenuous characterization heightens its absurdity. Asked by the inspector general how a memo describing an oﬃcial dinner between the FBI director and the president could be considered a “personal” document, Mr. Comey explains that he was also present in his capacity as a “human being.”
Anyone in Mr. Comey’s position would know that the memos were FBI documents and that he had no right to keep them after Mr. Trump fired him. He nonetheless gave them to his attorneys, and scanned and emailed the sensitive information on unsecure equipment. (This is the man who called Hillary Clinton ’s handling of oﬃcial secrets “extremely careless.”) The inspector general found it “particularly concerning” that Mr. Comey didn’t tell the FBI he’d retained copies, even when bureau oﬃcials came to his home to inventory and remove FBI property.
Mr. Horowitz is equally appalled the former director “made public sensitive investigative information” via a friend, giving it to the media “unilaterally and without authorization.” The report notes that “the civil liberties of every individual”—presumably even the president—depend on the FBI’s safeguarding information. Just as important, the inspector general lambastes Mr. Comey for the purpose of the leak—to achieve a “personally desired outcome,” the appointment of a special counsel. “By not safeguarding sensitive information,” and “by using it to create public pressure for oﬃcial action, Comey set a dangerous example for the over 35,000 current FBI employees,” Mr. Horowitz writes.
This is the nub of it. Mr. Comey clearly detested Mr. Trump from the start.
He abused his power and used leaky, sneaky tricks to undermine the presidency. Mr. Comey told the inspector general he had to do it because it was important to “the Nation,” and “I love this country.” Mr. Horowitz has no time for such self-justification: “Comey’s own, personal conception of what was necessary was not an appropriate basis for ignoring the policies and agreements governing the use of FBI records.” The report points out that if every FBI oﬃcial acted on “personal convictions,” the bureau “would be unable to dispatch its law enforcement duties properly.”
This is the real merit of the inspector general’s report—its clear, ringing reminder that the rules apply to all. Still, it should disturb Americans that a man who has now been repeatedly admonished for “acting unilaterally”— and who so dishonestly spins his actions and history—held positions of such power for so long.
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