Amid the constant media outrage over everything Trump, Trump, Trump, some might have forgotten that in the political rollercoaster over the past 12 months, there were numerous other high-profile individuals involved, including not only former DOJ head Loretta Lynch, whose every interaction with the Clinton campaign is about to be probed under a Congressional microscope, but the man who some say started it all: former FBI Director James Comey.
First loved by the Democrats when he personally absolved Hillary Clinton of any sins regarding her (ab)use of her personal email server, then furiously loathed when he reopened the FBI probe into Hillary Clinton one week before the election, then finally getting into a feud with President Trump which cost his him job, Comey ultimately admitted to leaking at least one memo which contained personal recollections of his conversations with the president, in hopes of launching a special probe into the president's alleged Russian collusion.
There was just one problem: according to a blockbuster report from The Hill, in addition to the leaked memos, Comey also leaked classified information in gross and direct violation of FBI rules and regulations. And just like that Comey finds himself in trouble. Only not just any trouble, but the virtually same trouble that Hillary Clinton was in in the summer of 2016... and which James Comey was tasked to investigate.
We'll repeat the above because it bears repeating: in the purest definition of irony, James Comey is about to be investigated for the exact same thing which he absolved Hillary Clinton of doing last summer. Almost as if neither Comey nor Clinton were aware of - or willing to abide by - the security protocol of the agency they were in charge of.
Aside from once again confirming that Trump may have been right all along in his accusation of the ex-FBI chief's motives, this shocking revelation raises the possibility that Comey broke his own agency’s rules - by putting his own interests above those of his country - but far more grotesquely, ignored the same security protocol that he publicly criticized Hillary Clinton for in the waning days of the 2016 presidential election, in order to settle his vendetta with President Trump.
Amusingly, Comey's alleged flagrant disregard for FBI regulations would explain why he also found Clinton's email server transgressions to not be a material concern, contrary to what most Republicans claimed at the time. After all, if it was good - or rather not bad enough for Clinton, maybe it was the same with Comey's own abuse of confidential data? The only problem is that while Comey was generous enough to let Hillary go, now that the ex-FBI chief is facing the president of the US as his adversary, he may not be quite so lucky.
Upon hearing of Comey's alleged transgressions, the now former Chair of the House Oversight Committee said simply that "IF true, this is bombshell news."
Comey’s private memos on Trump conversations contained classified material https://t.co/XCncK9Ijl1 IF true, this is bombshell news— Jason Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) July 10, 2017
Incidentally, the first to warn of Comey's imminent headaches, was Breitbart News, which on Friday reported that a new Senate report said recent leaks by former FBI Director James Comey’s leaking of memos could “potentially harm national security.” The report, released by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Thursday, found that there were 125 separate leaks in President Trump’s first 126 days that were potentially damaging to national security. The report said it included Comey’s leaking of his memos after he was fired by Trump in May.
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Comey's troubles started when he testified under oath last month that he considered the memos he prepared to be personal documents and that he shared at least one of them with a Columbia University lawyer friend. As Comey later disclosed, he asked that lawyer to leak information from one memo to the news media in hopes of increasing pressure to get a special prosecutor named in the Russia case after Comey was fired as FBI director.
The Hill recounts that particular exchange with Senator Roy Blunt:
“So you didn’t consider your memo or your sense of that conversation to be a government document?,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) asked Comey on June 8. “You considered it to be, somehow, your own personal document that you could share to the media as you wanted through a friend?”
“Correct,” Comey answered. “I understood this to be my recollection recorded of my conversation with the president. As a private citizen, I thought it important to get it out.”
Comey insisted in his testimony he believed his personal memos were unclassified, though he hinted one or two documents he created might have been contained classified information. “I immediately prepared an unclassified memo of the conversation about Flynn and discussed the matter with FBI senior leadership,” he testified about the one memo he later leaked about former national security adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. Additionally, he added, “My view was that the content of those unclassified, memorialization of those conversations was my recollection recorded.”
That's when the problems escalated, because according to The Hill - which for the first time disclosed that the total number of memos linked to Comey's nine conversations with Trump - when the seven memos Comey wrote regarding his nine conversations with Trump about Russia earlier this year were shown to Congress in recent days, the FBI claimed all were, in fact, deemed to be government documents.
Oops. As The Hill reveals, four, or more than half, of the seven memos had markings making clear they contained information classified at the “secret” or “confidential” level, according to officials directly familiar with the matter.
This is a major problem for Comey because FBI policy forbids any agent from releasing classified information or any information from ongoing investigations or sensitive operations without prior written permission, and mandates that all records created during official duties are considered to be government property.
“Unauthorized disclosure, misuse, or negligent handling of information contained in the files, electronic or paper, of the FBI or which I may acquire as an employee of the FBI could impair national security, place human life in jeopardy, result in the denial of due process, prevent the FBI from effectively discharging its responsibilities, or violate federal law,” states the agreement all FBI agents sign.
FBI policy further 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.”
Comey indicated in his testimony the memos were in his possession when he left the bureau, leaving him in a position to leak one of them through his lawyer friend to the media. But he testified that he has since turned them over to Robert Mueller, a former FBI chief and now spearheading the investigation about possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. It is not clear whether Comey as director signed the same agreement as his agents, but the contract is considered the official policy of the bureau. It was also unclear when the documents were shown to Congress whether the information deemed "secret" or "confidential" was classified at the time Comey wrote the memos or determined so afterwards, the sources said.
Meanwhile, Congressional investigators have already begun examining whether Comey’s creation, storage and sharing of the memos violated FBI rules, but the revelation that four of the seven memos included some sort of classified information opens a new door of inquiry into whether classified information was mishandled, improperly stored or improperly shared.
Where things get especially ironic, is that this was the same issue the FBI - under Comey - investigated in 2015-16 about Clinton’s private email server, at the time the most sensitive and controversial issue of the Clinton campaign, where as secretary of State she and top aides moved classified information through insecure channels.
Ultimately, Comey concluded in July 2016 that Clinton’s email practices were reckless, but that he could not recommend prosecution because FBI agents had failed to find enough evidence that she intended to violate felony statutes prohibiting the transmission of classified information through insecure practices. While the news initially was loved by Democrats as it let Hillary get off scott-free from any potential criminal probe, Comey's subsequent decision to restart the FBI probe into Clinton's email server one week before the election is what eventually prompted both Hillary and John Podesta to claim that James Comey was one of the two factors that cost Clinton the presidency... along with the "Russian hacking" of course.
The only problem is that while there is yet no evidence of Russian hacking, suddenly with the factual emergence of Comey's transgression, questions may emerge not only into the ex-FBI chief's actions and motives, but whether the FBI's clearance of Clinton's use of an email server under Comey was proper after all...
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So what happens next? According to The Hill, congressional investigators are likely to turn their attention to the same issues to determine if Comey mishandled any classified information in his personal memos.
In order to make an assessment, congressional investigators will have to tackle key questions, such as:
- Where and how were the memos were created, such as whether they were written on an insecure computer or notepad.
- Where and how the memos were stored, such as inside his home, his briefcase or an insecure laptop.
- Were any memos shown to private individuals without a security clearance and did those memos contain any classified information
- When was it determined by the government that the memos contained classified information, before Comey took them and shared one or after.
One avenue for answering those questions is for a panel like Senate Intelligence, House Intelligence or Senate Judiciary to refer the matter to the Justice Department’s internal watchdog, the inspector general, or to the Director of National Intelligence and its inspector general. One thing is certain: the near-future will see many more of Comey's sworn Congressional testimonies, and the vendetta between Trump and Comey is about to not only be rekindled but escalate to previously unseen levels. For an appetizer of what's to come, look closely at Trump's twitter feed once the president learns the news of Comey's alleged transgressions.