Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a report Thursday outlining a wide range of serious misconduct by former FBI Director James Comey. Concluding that “Comey set a dangerous example for the over 35,000 current FBI employees … who similarly have access to or knowledge of non-public information,” the 83-page report implicitly vindicated President Trump’s decision to fire the rogue FBI director in May 2017. The Office of the Inspector General also confirmed that Comey improperly leaked highly sensitive material to the media for the express purpose of pressuring the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to investigate the 2016 presidential election:
Comey told us he needed to do this because it was something he was “uniquely situated to do, because [he was] now a private citizen.” He told us that by speaking out, or enabling someone else to speak out, it would “change the game” … by creating “extraordinary pressure on the leadership of the Department of Justice, which [Comey did] not trust,” to appoint a Special Counsel.
Comey chose to achieve this lofty goal by “enabling someone else,” Columbia Law Professor Daniel Richman, to share the contents of an FBI document with a reporter for the New York Times. The OIG report places enormous emphasis on this document and three others (Memos 2, 4, 6, and 7) that Comey drafted subsequent to various confidential discussions with President Trump. He kept copies of these memos at his home in a safe after he was fired and neglected to notify anyone at the FBI that he had done so. Comey has since insisted that they were his “personal documents” to dispose of as he wished. The OIG report explains why this claim is nonsense:
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. By definition, Federal records include “all recorded information, regardless of form or characteristics, made or received by a Federal agency.”
The OIG report goes on to point out that, despite his claims to the contrary, Comey knew perfectly well that he was violating FBI regulations by keeping the memos and leaking them. Horowitz notes that the difference between official FBI documents and personal material is clearly spelled out in guidance provided by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for permanent retention of materials of senior officials. “This program designates which documents are considered official Federal records, and provides specific records retention schedules for such officials.” The OIG report also provides the definition of a genuinely personal document:
[R]egulations define personal files or records as “documentary materials belonging to an individual that are not used to conduct agency business.” Merely labeling a document as “personal” or “private” does not alter the official nature of a document if it is “used in the transaction of public business.” The FBI’s Records Management Policy adds that personal papers are “not used to conduct FBI business.”
Such distinctions are not difficult to decode. Moreover, there is a blindingly obvious criterion that can be applied by anyone with an IQ exceeding single digits: If the documents contain information concerning an ongoing investigation, it can’t be categorized as “personal.” The “ongoing investigation” test pointed in only one direction. All of the memos contained such information. Even if Comey had somehow missed this clue and managed to overlook the regulations noted above in his long career, his senior colleagues had no doubt. The OIG report states, “All of the FBI senior leaders interviewed by the OIG stated that the Memos were official government records.”
All of this suggests that James Comey, who has represented himself as a man of impeccable virtue pursuing a “higher calling” in a political environment rife with corruption and blind ambition, might have learned a little humility from the OIG’s scathing report. Many in his position would offer apologies to the many victims of his hubris, including the FBI, President Trump, and the nation as a whole. But the erstwhile FBI director doesn’t do humble. In fact, he actually seems to believe that he is somehow owed an apology. Incredibly, his interpretation of the Horowitz report is that it somehow vindicates him. Shortly after the report was released, he tweeted,
DOJ IG “found no evidence that Comey or his attorneys released any of the classified information contained in any of the memos to members of the media.” 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.
That pretty much puts the tin hat on it. The DOJ’s Inspector General characterized Comey’s conduct as “dangerous.” This is not a word a guy like Horowitz uses lightly. Moreover, he supported this assertion by providing all manner of damning information showing that Comey engaged in the “unauthorized disclosure of sensitive investigative information, obtained during the course of FBI employment, in order to achieve a personally desired outcome.” Yet Comey still sees himself as a paragon of civic virtue. Thank goodness President Trump fired him.