Former FBI Director James Comey just can’t seem to get his head out of the klieg lights of the media. And so, the question arises: does he miss all the attention? Or perhaps he’s addicted to attention like a two-year-old in the grocery store.
You may remember, the removal of Comey as top dog at the FBI was shrouded in controversy. Rumors of secretly recorded memos swirled in the media – and eventually, the information from one such memo was released. We now know that Mr. Comey intentionally had the contents of at least one document leaked because, as he told Congress, “as a private citizen, I thought it important to get it out.” Mr. Comey’s law professor friend who leaked the information for him didn’t believe it was imperative, but apparently, as many as half the memos contain confidential information. Soon after hearing about this, President Trump took to Twitter. “James Comey leaked CLASSIFIED INFORMATION to the media. That is so illegal!” Once again, President Trump flexed his Twitter muscle in a knee-jerk reaction, and the establishment media masses sprinted to their keyboards to either attack or defend him.
The original report by The Hill does a fair job of representing both sides of the argument without leaning too far one way or the other. The story opens with a simple reporting of the alleged facts:
More than half of the memos former FBI Director 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.
The Hill goes on to explain that Mr. Comey told Congress that he felt the memos were his recollections and not government property – though he did admit that a couple might have contained classified information. The FBI, it seems, disagreed. According to agency rules, the memos are government property and are not Comey’s to share without permission. The Hill’s story explains:
FBI policy forbids any agent from releasing classified information or any information from ongoing investigations or sensitive operations without prior written permission, and it mandates that all records created during official duties are considered to be government property …
… It adds that “all information acquired by me in connection with my official duties with the FBI and all official material to which I have access remain the property of the United States of America” and that an agent “will not reveal, by any means, any information or material from or related to FBI files or any other information acquired by virtue of my official employment to any unauthorized recipient without prior official written authorization by the FBI.”
While this story does provide a fundamental argument that James Comey acted inappropriately, it also explains his reasons and rationalizations for doing so. What it does not do is downplay or ignore any of those arguments or accuse Comey of wrongdoing. Not all who reported on this were so balanced.
White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway called the story a “bombshell” and attacked Mr. Comey quite vehemently. Fox News reports:
“The boy scout, choir boy defense doesn’t hold up here because if it contains classified information, he is apparently violating, at the very least, what all FBI members sign — they sign a document saying you will not do something like this. He was the director of the entire bureau,” Conway told “Fox & Friends.” “The irony to me, anyway … is that this is exactly the problem that Hillary Clinton had with her illegal server — the handling of classified and confidential information that Jim Comey was meant to investigate, if not prosecute.”
She later continued:
“If people go back and listen to him under oath, he is admitting what his intent was,” Conway said. “You couple that with the fact that this was classified information, I think this is what the story should be – not all this nonsense about Russian collusion and what not.”
Others chose to downplay Comey’s violation of agency regulations and attack President Trump’s Tweet instead. ABC News reported:
President Donald Trump is accusing the former FBI director he fired of illegally leaking classified information to the media – without offering any evidence for the allegation.
Of course, immediately below President Trump’s accusatory tweet, he retweeted a brief video clip from Fox & Friends, which the president most likely considered evidence for his accusation.
The ABC story seems to rationalize Comey’s sharing of the memos in the same way the former FBI Director did – by saying that they were his recollections written in a way that avoided the use of classified information. They briefly note that confidential information could not always be avoided, but contend that none of the classified memos were shared with anyone beyond the investigative team, Congress, and now Special Counsel Robert Mueller. What ABC seems to have ignored entirely, however, is the fact that the memos are considered government documents by the FBI, and that Mr. Comey violated the rules when he took them – classified or not.
This latest debacle seems to provide evidence that James Comey undeniably broke the rules. However, there is not sufficient evidence yet to say that he broke the law. There is, however, suspicion – and not just on the part of President Trump. In the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing with Jeff Sessions, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) explained that a leak developed within twenty minutes of Comey’s closed hearing. He didn’t outright accuse Comey of leaking, but Cotton seems to believe that over one of his fellow committee members leaking the information.
Whether President Trump’s use of the word illegal is accurate or not remains to be seen. For now, all we can do is dig through the facts in search of the truth and hold on as we ride out this wave. For better or worse, the president has spoken.
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