Scandal: When President Trump accused former FBI director James Comey of lying under oath in a tweet on Saturday, defenders rushed to Comey’s aid. But Comey has been saying a lot of things that are decidedly fact challenged.
Trump’s tweet was sparked by a statement made by Comey’s deputy, Andrew McCabe, after he was fired at the recommendation of the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
McCabe had been accused of misleading an inspector general investigation about leaking information to the press about the Hillary Clinton investigation.
In his statement, McCabe forcefully defended his contact with the media, denying that it could even be called a “leak.”
“It was not a secret, it took place over several days, and others, including the Director, were aware of the interaction with the reporter,” McCabe said in his post-firing statement. The “director” he’s referring to was James Comey.
As legal scholar Jonathan Turley notes, “that could be viewed as incriminating fired FBI director James Comey, not just in leaking sensitive information but also in lying to Congress.”
As Turley and others have noted, Comey was asked under oath in May 2017 whether he had ever authorized anyone to leak information to the press. Comey’s answer was an emphatic “no.”
If Comey wasn’t entirely truthful then, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s played fast and loose with the facts.
Here’s a rundown.
FISA Application: In a letter to the Justice Department’s Inspector General, Sen. Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham say information Comey provided members of the Judiciary Committee in a private interview regarding the FISA application to spy on former Trump campaign official Carter Page was contradicted by the applications themselves.
“What is the reason for the difference between what Mr. Comey told the Chairman and Ranking Member in March 2017, and what appears in the FISA application?” they ask. “No explanation for the inconsistencies has ever been provided,” they said, adding, “did Director Comey intentionally mislead the Committee?”
Trump Dossier: Comey testified that he briefed Trump about the salacious “dossier” before Trump was inaugurated because he’d learned that the media were about to report on it. But it’s more likely that Comey briefed Trump for the express purpose of getting its embarrassing content out into the public. Since, as soon as that meeting was over, it leaked to the press.
As Graham and Grassley note in their IG letter, the press wasn’t covering the dossier before that briefing because they considered it unverified. But the mere fact that Trump had been briefed on it instantly made it newsworthy. “CNN only broke the story on the dossier because Mr. Comey briefed the President-Elect about it,” they note.
In other words, it’s far more likely that Comey lied about why he briefed Trump, a briefing that just happened to get the entire Russia scandal story rolling in the press.
Trump Memos: Comey repeatedly asserted that none of the memos he wrote about his interactions with Trump contained any classified information. That matters because Comey took these memos with him after he got fired by Trump, in violation of FBI rules. Comey then shared some of the memos with a friend, who leaked them to the press.
Despite Comey’s claims, however, the Hill reported that four of the seven memos did, in fact, contain classified information. So it’s highly likely that Comey shared classified information.
Comey did admit that he leaked these documents in hopes that a special counsel would be appointed to investigate Trump. We don’t doubt that’s true.
Clinton Exoneration: Then there was Comey’s insistence that he hadn’t decided what to do about Hillary Clinton’s private email server scandal until after the FBI interviewed her on July 2, 2016. Comey told Congress that “the decision was made after that (interview), because I didn’t know what was going to happen in that interview. She maybe lied in the interview in a way we could prove.”
Long after Comey made that claim, however, draft FBI memos exonerating Clinton — written months before several key figures, including Clinton, had been interviewed — came to light, suggesting that the FBI was planning to exonerate her all along.
Then a text exchange from two top FBI officials indicated that then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch also knew Clinton wouldn’t face charges before Clinton had been interviewed.
Finally, there’s the claim Comey made when he issued his statement exonerating Clinton that “no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”
That, too, was not entirely true. As we noted in this space in October 2016, “career agents and attorneys on the case unanimously believed the Democratic presidential nominee should have been charged.”
What’s more, a key term in Comey’s final statement was changed from earlier drafts from “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless.” The difference was critical, because gross negligence is specifically listed as a prosecutable offense when it comes to mishandling classified material, even if there was no intent to do wrong.
In other words, the only way Comey could convincingly claim that Clinton’s actions were un-prosecutable was by watering down the language.
In a piece on the Lawfare Blog, Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes note that “The FBI takes telling the truth extremely seriously.” So much so that ” ‘lack of candor’ from employees is a fireable offense — and people are fired for it. Moreover, it doesn’t take an outright lie to be dismissed.”
The authors were writing this in the context of why McCabe was fired.
But we’d be hard pressed to make the case that Comey lived up to that standard when he was running things at the FBI.
Don’t expect Comey to own up to any of this, even though his new tell-all book is titled “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership.”