For two years, the same cabal that in 2016 ignored Hillary Clinton’s criminal handling of classified material and instead sprinted after an apparition of Russia collusion has assured us that politics didn’t matter. That tarmac meetings and private texts meant nothing. That the partisan preferences of career FBI and DOJ employees is merely personal and had no effect on their handling of the Clinton investigation or the targeting of the Donald Trump campaign.
The gig’s finally up. Yesterday’s Office of Inspector General Report on former FBI director James Comey’s creation, handling, and disclosure of memoranda he drafted about his conversations with Trump tells us all we need to know about Comey. It was personal—all personal.
“Through our investigation we learned that Comey considered Memos 2 through 7 to be his personal documents,” “like his will or his passport,” the IG wrote in reference to six of the seven memos Comey wrote between January 6, 2017 and April 11, 2017. Those memoranda memorialized one-on-one conversations between the then-FBI director and Trump. Of those six memoranda, four he kept at home in the safe he shared with his wife, and later, after Trump fired him, Comey shared the memos with his personal attorneys.
But as the IG report made clear, Comey’s memoranda were records of official FBI business between the president and the FBI director. Yet Comey viewed the memoranda as his private property! (One must wonder whether Clinton took a similar stance about “private” when deleting 30,000-plus “personal emails.”) However, the IG report concluded that “Comey’s characterization of the Memos as personal records finds no support in the law and is wholly incompatible with the plain language of the statutes, regulations, and policies defining Federal records, and the terms of Comey’s FBI Employment Agreement.”
Moreover, as the IG report stressed, “much of the content of the Memos was directly tied to FBI investigative activities,” such as memo two, which “concerned whether, at the President’s request, the FBI should open an investigation into the ‘salacious’ information ‘to prove it was a lie.’ Memo 4 included a reference to the president’s statement that he hoped Comey could ‘see [his] way clear…to letting Flynn go’ because the President believed Flynn ‘hadn’t done anything wrong.’” Memos six and seven discussed Trump’s efforts to encourage Comey to “‘lift the cloud’ created by the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.” Comey also memorialized his repeated assurances to “Trump that Trump had not been named as a subject in an FBI investigation.”
The IG report rebuked Comey for mishandling official FBI records, and for his many violations of regulations, DOJ and FBI policies, and Comey’s employment agreement with the FBI. “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 IG explained.
That is all true and a devastating indictment of Comey. But what should be equally ruinous to Comey’s reputation are the many times he admitted to OIG investigators that he conflated the personal with the professional—and prioritized the former.
In addition, to viewing his work-related summaries as his “’recollection recorded,’ like a diary or personal notes,” in explaining why he wrote his second memorandum summarizing his private dinner with the president, Comey said he viewed Trump as “fundamentally dishonest” and he was “worried very much that [Trump] would say I had said things at this dinner that were not true.” Comey told the IG that he saw that possibility as “dangerous to me, but also to the FBI.”
“But honestly, at this point I was thinking first about me,” Comey explained, adding “close second the FBI.” The memo then, served Comey, “as a personal aide-mémoire”—something Comey said he felt necessary “to protect himself.”
The IG report also censured Comey for leaking to The New York Times the content of the memorandum discussing his conversation with Trump about Michael Flynn, through his close friend and lawyer Daniel Richman. Although Comey violated controlling policies and his employment agreement in relaying the content of his memorandum to the Times, the former FBI director continued to justify his conduct, arguing he sought to prompt the appointment of a special counsel. It was an issue of “incredible importance to the Nation, as a whole” Comey told the OIG, and he felt that taking action was “something I [had] to do if I love this country…and I love the Department of Justice, and I love the FBI.”
But as the IG report stressed, “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 OIG then stressed that “even when these employees believe that their most strongly-held personal convictions might be served by an unauthorized disclosure, the FBI depends on them not to disclose sensitive information.” “Former Director Comey failed to live up to this responsibility,” the OIG concluded.
He did: Instead of serving as the director of the FBI, Comey treated the FBI as his own personal fiefdom. And if the FBI director had no problem violating controlling policies and his employment agreement because of his “strongly-held personal convictions,” how much more risk was there that a lower-level FBI agent would similarly allow a personal disdain for the president to trump all else?