WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump accused former FBI Director James Comey on Monday of breaking the law based on a misleading report on the “Fox and Friends” program.
The Fox News segment focused on a report from The Hill political newspaper and website that focused on whether Comey violated any of the FBI’s rules when he divulged a memo to a friend which documented his often tense interactions with Trump last winter.
The Hill’s report indicates that there were seven total memos prepared by Comey after nine of his conversations with the president.
Four of those were marked classified with a “secret” or “confidential” status. Three were not. The distinction is critical to the story. The Hill did not report that a memo Comey gave to a friend to pass on to a report was one of the four containing classified material.
“Fox and Friends” blurred the distinction, making it sound as if all of the memos contained classified material.
Moments after the segment aired, the Fox News social media team tweeted a screen grab that read: “Report accuses materials James Comey leaked to a friend contained top secret information.”
The president chimed in less than 10 minutes later, tweeting “James Comey leaked CLASSIFIED INFORMATION to the media. That is so illegal!” [Emphasis original.]
The president’s false accusation has been retweeted more than 6 million times since he first sent out the 140-character missive.
The Hill reported that “more than half of the memos former FBI chief James Comey wrote as personal recollections of his conversations with President Trump about the Russia investigation have been determined to contain classified information, according to interviews with officials familiar with the documents.”
Appearing on ABC’s “Good Morning, America,” Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway called the report the “real bombshell of the day.”
Though the misleading Fox report would do much help the Trump administration’s own allegations that Comey is a “leaker,” Comey’s testimony to Congress in June directly contradicts the report Fox issued.
Trump has frequently asserted that Comey’s testimony in June vindicated his presidency and that it was the former director who should looked at with suspicion.
“Fox and Friends” began the broadcast on Monday by playing a brief clip of Comey’s testimony before promptly summarizing it: “It turns out; he may actually have broken the rules. A brand new bombshell report accuses Comey of putting our national security at risk. According to the Hill, the former FBI director’s personal memos detailing private conversations with President Trump contained top secret information.”
Classification levels, which run from confidential to secret to top secret seem to have tripped up the news agency’s re-telling of the events.
While the memos as a group were considered to hold classified information, the Hill did not report that each of the memos contained classified information.
Comey made the distinction during his hearing in June after telling senators that he gave a memo to a friend to leak to the press.
Sen. Mark Warner, D.-Va., asked the former director if the memo he wrote was classified and Comey confirmed it was not.
There has also been no confirmation, by any sources or any outlet, that suggests the memo Comey gave to his friend to leak specifically contained any classified information. Comey’s leak did throw up some red flags, however.
Unauthorized disclosures of some material is prohibited and the Hill’s own report noted that there is still a debate brewing over whether or not the memos Comey took were considered personal or property of the U.S. government.
Any consequences Comey might face on that count remain unclear.
Also unclear are the recent turn of events spurred by Donald Trump Jr.’s own contradictory statements to the media about a meeting he held last year with a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya.
Over the weekend, the New York Times broke a story about the meeting and Trump Jr. issued a statement saying that the only subject of conversation the two had revolved around a now disbanded program which helped Americans adopt Russian children.
But on Monday, the president’s eldest son changed his account of the meeting with Veselnitskaya, saying what was discussed was the prospect of sharing negative information about Clinton.
The Kremlin has disavowed any knowledge of the lawyer. Their meeting could be the earliest known private meeting between key Trump aides and those connected to Russia.