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DOJ watchdog says James Comey broke FBI policy by keeping, leaking Trump meeting memos

Posted at 10:27 AM, Aug 29, 2019

Former FBI Director James Comey violated agency policies when he retained and leaked a set of memos he took documenting meetings with President Donald Trump early in 2017, the Justice Department's inspector general said in a report released Thursday.

Comey set a "dangerous example" for FBI employees in an attempt to "achieve a personally desired outcome," the report states.

The inspector general's office referred the findings of its report to the Justice Department for potential prosecution earlier this summer, though the Justice Department declined to bring a case, the report says.

CNN has previously reported that the Justice Department prosecutors didn't believe there was evidence to show Comey knew and intended to violate laws on dealing with classified information, according to a person familiar with the referral.

The seven memos, which offer up stark examples of Trump's early attempts to disrupt a federal probe into his inner circle, became a catalyst for the special counsel investigation when the contents of one first appeared in The New York Times. Comey testified in a 2017 Senate hearing that he had sent documents to a friend, Columbia University law school professor Daniel Richman, and directed him to share the substance with a reporter. Trump has blasted Comey as a "leaker" for Comey's actions.

In one of the most consequential memos -- the one which Comey asked Richman to detail to a reporter -- Comey described a one-on-one meeting he had with Trump in the Oval Office where the President suggested he scuttle the federal investigation into Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser.

"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," Comey recalled Trump saying, according to a copy of the memo.

"To be clear, this was not a 'leak' of classified information no matter how many times politicians, political pundits, or the president call it that. A private citizen may legally share unclassified details of a conversation with the president with the press, or include that information in a book," Comey wrote in his 2018 memoir.

Lawyers representing Comey were able to review a draft of the report recently and returned it to the inspector general with comments, a source familiar with the report said. That review process is typically one of the last steps before the publishing of an inspector general's report.

Flynn eventually pleaded guilty in late 2017 to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russia's ambassador -- one of the earliest sets of charges to stem from special counsel Robert Mueller's office.

Comey has said that Richman, a former prosecutor, had been providing him legal advice since he was fired.

CNN reported last year that the inspector general's office had also questioned a number of close associates of Comey's from outside of the FBI that he had shared some of the memos with, in addition to Richman.

Copies of the memos that were produced to Congress last year contained classification markings showing that four had been designated "secret" or "confidential." The other three memos did not have markings indicating they contain classified information.

The DOJ inspector general's office is also said to be nearing the release of another hotly anticipated report -- this one probing the origins of the Russia investigation and the FBI's use of covert surveillance methods.

CNN reported last month that federal investigators in Inspector General Michael Horowitz's office had conducted more than 100 interviews as part of the review. Its release is not expected until September at the earliest -- after the release of the Comey report.

Allies of the President, including GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, have predicted that the FISA report would be "ugly and damning." Last week, Graham vowed to bring Horowitz before his committee to publicly testify on the investigation, which the President has nicknamed "Spygate."