Former FBI director James Comey insisted in a Fox News interview Thursday evening he did not violate the law when he had a friend pass on to the media memos of his conversations with President Trump, which had portions that later were determined by the FBI to be classified.
“Special Report” anchor Bret Baier noted that the employment agreement Comey signed with the FBI prohibits the disclosure of any information related to bureau files or acquired by virtue of his employment without prior written permission from the FBI.
“Did you have written permission?” Baier asked.
“No,” Comey said. “And I didn’t consider it part of an FBI file.”
But isn’t a memo of the FBI director’s conversation with the president of the United States considered “work product”?
“No, it was not. It was my personal aide de memoire,” Comey said.
The Justice Department’s inspector general has opened an investigation into whether Comey leaked classified information when he disclosed the contents of the memos. A report is expected next month.
In the Fox News interview, Comey also insisted he did not exonerate Hillary Clinton in the investigation of her mishandling of classified information well before she was interviewed. And he said he still does not know for a fact that the anti-Trump dossier, with information he once described as “unverified and salacious,” was funded by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Comey disclosed to the Senate in a June 2017 hearing that he had “asked a friend of mine,” Columbia Law Professor Dan Richman, “to share the content of a memo with the reporter … because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.”
He said he had two copies, one in his personal safe at home and one he left for the FBI “so they could always have access to it.”
“But I always thought of it as mine, like a diary,” said Comey, who is promoting his book “A Higher Loyalty,” which sold some 600,000 copies in its first week.
He said he gave the memos to his legal team, including former special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, after he gave them to Richman.
Noting Comey said in the memos that he doesn’t “leak,” Baier said, “We can argue what a leak is, but that’s a leak, isn’t it?”
“It’s not,” Comey replied.
Baier pointed out that when Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, asked Comey in May 2017 in a hearing whether or not information regarding Trump had been declassified and shared with the media, Comey replied, “Not to my knowledge.”
At what point, Baier asked, were you made aware that some of the information in the memos were classified by the FBI?
“Sometime after I was fired, the FBI apparently made a decision that there were some words in at least two of the memos … that were diplomatically sensitive. And so my lawyers returned them to the FBI.”
He insisted his testimony to Grassley was truthful, “and I stand by it.”
Later, on Baier’s panel of analysts, Joseph diGenova, a former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, said he didn’t find Comey’s answers about his handling of the memos credible.
“He’s supposed to know what’s classified. He has the authority to classify under the law. And yet he maintains that he did not give away classified information,” said diGenova.
DiGenova was hired last month to serve on Trump’s legal team for the special counsel investigation but backed out due to potential conflicts-of-interest.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said later in an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that he learned from the interview Comey has a “definition of the word leak that no one else has.”
“Leaking is disclosing a confidential conversation, which is exactly what he did,” the congressman said.
In an interview Thursday morning with “Fox & Friends,” Trump called Comey “a leaker,” “a liar” and a “man guilty of crimes.”
Trump has said he wants Comey jailed for allegedly leaking classified information and contends the former FBI director “totally” made up some of the contents of his memos.
At a CNN town hall Wednesday night with Anderson Cooper, Comey said he disagrees with Trump’s contention that the leak of memos violated the law.
“In fact I think he’s just making stuff up,” Comey said.
See the first segment of Bret Baier’s interview with James Comey:
No knowledge of Hillary’s funding of dossier?
Comey told Baier he still does not know for a fact that the dossier of political dirt on Trump compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele was funded by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign.
“I’ve only ever seen it in the media. I never knew exactly which Democrats had funded — I knew it was first funded by Republicans. ”
Baier interjected: “That’s not true,” explaining the Washington Free Beacon had hired the producer of the dossier, Fusion GPS, on retainer but did not fund the document.
Comey said it was his understanding the document was funded by Republicans and “picked up by Democrats opposed to Donald Trump.”
Asked if he told President Obama who funded the dossier, Comey said, “No, not to my recollection.”
“Did you want to know who it was funded by?” Baier asked.
“I wanted to know what I knew, which is it was funded by people politically opposed to Donald Trump. Which particular opponents wasn’t that important to me.”
Comey said he never briefed Obama on the dossier but was present in a conversation in January in which the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, briefed it to Obama as well as the “gang of eight” in Congress.
Baier asked why the FISA application to spy on former Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page led with the dossier, even though Comey had said it contained contents that were “unverified and salacious.”
“That’s not my recollection, Bret. And I don’t know that the FISA application has been released. My recollection was [the dossier] was part of a broader mosaic of facts that were laid before the FISA judge to obtain a FISA warrant.”
Comey further maintained that the dossier was not a “critical” part of the FISA application.
Baier noted that the January briefing with Trump and the dossier itself were leaked to the press.
Comey denied that he was the leaker.
Asked if it was Clapper, he said, “No, not to my knowledge.”
Was it CIA Director John Brennan?
“I don’t, I don’t know who leaked it. I had no part in leaking it. It was about four or five days later that it leaked,” Comey replied.
He said he never tried to find out who leaked it.
Comey confirmed he didn’t inform Trump what he knew about how the dossier was funded nor did he didn’t inform him that Christopher Steele had been fired by the FBI and had lied.
“And I didn’t know those things at that time anyway,” Comey said.
Baier also asked if he informed the president that the dossier had been used to obtain a warrant to spy on his campaign.
“No. It didn’t come up,” Comey said.
Comey claimed Obama didn’t know any more than Trump did about the dossier and the FISA application.
See the second segment of the Comey interview:
Comey: I didn’t exonerate Hillary before interview
Comey also insisted he did not exonerate Hillary Clinton in the investigation of her mishandling of classified information well before she was interviewed.
Baier then was asked why, if he hadn’t exonerated Clinton, did he write up the memo before a decision was made.
He explained that in May 2016, after about 10 months of investigating and before the Clinton interview, he began to realize “it was unlikely to end in a case that the prosecutors at DOJ would bring.”
Baier played video of Gowdy’s quizzing of Comey in a House hearing that demonstrated numerous statements Clinton made publicly about the email server and whether or not information was classified were false.
There was clearly “a pattern,” Baier said, “and yet you had made your decision.”
“No, I had not made my decision,” Comey said. “I could see what the investigators saw after 10 months. If you don’t have a general sense of where you’re headed after 10 months of that kind of work, you’re not competent.”
Comey explained that what people say in a public forum is “not our business.”
“Our business is, ‘Are you going to lie to us?’ And if you are, and we can prove it, then we’re going to prosecute you for it,” he said.
In the memo Comey drafted in May 2016 before interviewing Clinton, he described the secretary of state’s behavior as “grossly negligent.” But when he announced July 5, 2016, that the FBI would not refer the case to the Justice Department for prosecution, he used the term “extremely careless.”
Comey said that had he been aware of the texts, he would have “removed both of them from any contact with significant investigations.”
Baier asked whether their work should be questioned.
“It’s a reasonable question to ask,” Comey said.
“And I can tell you this. When I saw the text, I was deeply disappointed in them,” he said. “But I never saw any bias, any reflection of any kind of animus towards anybody.”
Comey: Fox News ‘thinks I should be in jail’
In the CNN town hall Wednesday at William & Mary College, Comey’s alma mater, the former FBI director said he was “going to be on another network tomorrow that thinks I should be in jail,” referring to the Fox News interview.
Earlier Thursday, Baier said on Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” that his network “does not think that Comey should be in jail as a statement of fact.”
“We are asking questions that lawmakers are asking on Capitol Hill,” he said.
After Comey’s book rollout, the Fox News anchor said, he was “looking for substance, and there are things on the table that have not been asked.”
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, wrote in a Washington Examiner commentary published Thursday that “instead of cashing in, it is time for the former FBI director to come before Congress and clarify some of his previous troubling comments that don’t seem to square with the evidence.”
- Did Comey and his FBI improperly coordinate with former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the Department of Justice during the height of the Clinton email investigation?
- Why did Comey leave out pertinent facts when he briefed then-President-elect Trump on the Russian dossier?
- Did Comey and James Clapper coordinate to give the Russian dossier credibility and leak its contents to the media?
- Why did Comey fail to mention he had secretly hired his friend, law professor Daniel Richman, as a “special employee” of the FBI?
- Did Comey give his memo to anyone else?