WASHINGTON – The Justice Department is now comparing former FBI Director James Comey to WikiLeaks, according to the Washington watchdog group Judicial Watch.
But as the Department of Justice seeks to charge the whistleblower organization with conspiracy, theft of government property and violations of the Espionage Act, it is apathetic to the former FBI chief’s violation of federal law and leaks of classified information to the press, Judicial Watch contends.
It was May 16 when Comey gave the New York Times, through an intermediary, a Feb. 14 memorandum that detailed a one-on-one conversation he had with President Trump in the Oval Office regarding the FBI’s investigation of potential Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Comey claimed in his memo that Trump asked him during the meeting to shut down the federal investigation into Flynn.
Comey admitted while testifying under oath in June before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that he leaked the Flynn memo to the New York Times.
“I asked a friend of mine to share the contents of the memo with a reporter [for the New York Times],” Comey said. “I didn’t do it myself for a variety of reasons, I asked him to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.”
He also admitted he authored at least nine memos about his conversations with the president.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller was appointed May 17, one day after Comey gave his memo to the Times.
Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Justice Department on May 16 seeking the release of all of Comey’s unclassified memoranda about his conversations with Trump.
The DOJ explained it was withholding the documents for law enforcement purposes. In its Oct. 13 court filing opposing the release, the Justice Department asserted that Comey’s memos contain classified material.
The Justice Department, which is reportedly preparing charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and members of his group, is comparing Comey to the whistleblower organization but refuses to hold Comey accountable for leaking classified information to the press, Judicial Watch argues in its lawsuit.
“Defendant compares Ex-Director Comey to Wikileaks, but makes no claim to have initiated action to address Ex–Director Comey’s misconduct. Its failure to do so further undercuts any claim of harm,” Judicial Watch states in its Nov. 3 court filing.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has repeatedly stated that the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Assange is a U.S. “priority.”
“We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks,” Sessions said at a news conference in April in response to a reporter’s question about the intent to arrest Assange.
Sessions said the rampant leaks of sensitive secrets was unprecedented.
“This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of. We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious,” he said. “Whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.”
Comey leaked the memos, in violation of federal law, only to retaliate against the president for firing him, Judicial Watch argues.
“Ex-Director Comey plainly did not use the February 14 Memo for any recognized or legitimate law enforcement purpose. He used it to settle a score with the president, who had just fired him,” the organization states in its suit.
If Comey’s memos do not contain classified information, they should be publicly disclosed, Judicial Watch contends, refuting the DOJ’s exemption of the documents.
“If disclosure of the February 14 Memo could reasonably be expected to harm the
Russia investigation, then presumably defendant would have taken steps to address Ex-Director Comey’s removal of the memo from the FBI, leaking of the memo to the media, and subsequent testimony about the memo, to the extent that testimony was unauthorized and not coordinated with defendant, the FBI, and/or Special Counsel Mueller. Removal of government records is a federal offense,” Judicial Watch states in the lawsuit.
On June 9, the Daily Caller News Foundation filed a FOIA request also seeking the release of “all unclassified memoranda authored by former FBI Director James Comey that contemporaneously memorialized his discussions with President Donald Trump and his aides [during] the time frame … November 8, 2016 to May 9, 2017.”
The Department of Justice did not respond to DCNF’s request, prompting Judicial Watch to file a second FOIA lawsuit against the Justice Department for Comey’s memos on Sept. 7 on behalf of the news organization.
In Daily Caller News Foundation v. U.S. Department Justice, Judicial Watch blasts Justice Department officials for neglecting to investigate Comey.
“Importantly, defendants did not prevent Director Comey from testifying. Nor do they
dispute, disavow, and even disagree with any of his testimony. Nor have defendants sought to initiate an investigation against Director Comey for violating any non-disclosure agreements or removing records from the FBI when he was fired,” Judicial Watch states in the lawsuit. “Defendants have done little, if anything, expected of an agency facing an unauthorized leak or disclosure of information. Their silence and inaction speak volumes.”
Comey admitted during his testimony that he did not write the memos for law enforcement purposes, Judicial Watch points out.
“[Director Comey] explained, ‘I knew that there might come a day when I would need a record of what happened, not just to defend myself, but to defend the FBI and – and our integrity as an institution and the independence of our investigation.’ … He authored the records not for law enforcement purposes but for administrative and institutional purposes. His testimony could not be clearer.”
Judicial Watch argues in both FOIA lawsuits, which have been consolidated in Cable News Network Inc., v. Federal Bureau of Investigation, against the Department of Justice withholding the memoranda under the guise of a national security exemption.
“We now have Justice Department confirmation that Comey was wrong to have leaked records to the media to settle a score with President Trump,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “How can this Justice Department defend its position that memos written for pernicious purposes to target a sitting president with a criminal investigation should remain secret? Mr. Mueller may have an interest in protecting Comey, but the public’s interest demands transparency about Comey’s vendetta against President Trump.”
Judicial Watch is pursuing numerous additional FOIA lawsuits relating to Comey’s memoranda and FBI exit records
The watchdog group filed a FOIA lawsuit Nov. 2 against the Justice Department to find out if Comey “coordinated” with Mueller before his appearance before Congress.
The Justice Department failed to respond to an Aug. 14, 2017, FOIA request seeking all “records of communications between the Department of Justice and former FBI Director James Comey prior to and regarding Comey’s testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on June 8, 2017.”
“Mr. Comey may have violated the law in leaking these memos to the media,” said Fitton. “It would be a scandal if Comey coordinated his Senate testimony with Mr. Mueller’s special counsel office. That we have had to sue in federal court speaks volumes.”
Republican lawmakers argue that Mueller’s long-standing friendship with Comey renders him unsuited to lead an investigation that pertains to Trump’s decision to fire Comey.