WASHINGTON (CN) – A watchdog for the Justice Department released a critical report Thursday about how former FBI Director James Comey made the press aware of his interactions with President Donald Trump.
Though the 61-page report says Comey will not face prosecution, it says he violated agency policy by keeping memos on his meetings with Trump and leaking one to the New York Times.
“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 many thousands more former FBI employees – who similarly have access to or knowledge of non-public information,” the report the Justice Department Office of the Inspector General states.
The seven memos studied by the inspector general detailed conversations Comey had with Trump between Jan. 6 and April 11, 2017, and were a key turning point in the investigation into alleged collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia.
Through a friend, Comey sent The New York Times one memo that detailed a conversation in which Trump urged Comey to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador, with the hopes it would lead to the appointment of a special counsel.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller was appointed one day after The New York Times ran a story based on Comey’s memo, which was not classified. The report states investigators did not find evidence Comey or his attorneys leaked classified information included in the memos.
Comey told the inspector general’s office he gave the memo to his friend and attorney Daniel Richman with instructions to share it with the Times out of a sense of duty to the country, but the report dismisses this as a poor excuse for flouting agency policy.
“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 report states. “What was not permitted was the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive investigative information, obtained during the course of FBI employment, in order to achieve a personally desired outcome.”
The six other memos detailed in the inspector general report carried differing levels of classification, including “secret,” “confidential” and “for official use only.” Comey kept some of the memos in a safe at his house and the report released Thursday says he should have returned the memos after Trump fired him in May 2017.
He also shared other memos with his attorneys to help with any legal issues that might come out of his firing. These memos included one that contained classified information and detailed a conversation in which Trump asked Comey to pledge loyalty to him. Thursday’s report faults Comey for not telling the FBI he had shared copies of the memos, even after he learned the FBI had marked as confidential a portion of the one in which Trump asked for his loyalty.
Comey responded to the report’s release on Twitter saying it vindicated him on allegations that he leaked classified information.
“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 followed up.
The Justice Department declined to prosecute Comey after reviewing the inspector general’s findings, according to the report.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is close to Trump, said he expects more “ugly and damning rebukes of senior DOJ and FBI officials” going forward, as investigations continue into the origins of the Russia probe.
“The inspector general’s report is a stunning and unprecedented rebuke of a former director of the FBI,” Graham said in a statement Thursday.