The Department of Justice’s internal watchdog is looking into the possibility that the memos fired FBI Director James Comey leaked to media to trigger the appointment of a special counsel to investigate collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russia contained classified information.
The Wall Street Journal reported at least two of the memos contained information that officials now consider classified, quoting sources familiar with the matter.
Comey boasted of delivering memos of his meetings with Trump to a friend who then gave them to a New York Times reporter.
Comey had given four memos to Daniel Richman, a professor at Columbia Law School.
Three were considered unclassified at the time and one was classified, the Journal said.
The Journal noted that as FBI director, Comey had the legal authority to determine what bureau information was classified and what wasn’t.
“Once he left government, however, the determination fell to other officials,” the report said.
Comey had censored parts of one of the memos before handing it over, and he decided another had no classified information. But after he left the FBI, bureau officials upgraded it to “confidential,” the lowest level of classification.
Consequently, the DOJ’s inspector general is investigating whether or not classified information was leaked.
Comey has claimed the right to release such memos because he considers them personal, not government documents.
He informed Congress he authorized their release as a “private citizen,” even though they pertained to government business and were compiled and written while he was a government official.
Comey and Trump have traded barbs during Comey’s promotion of his new book.
The former FBI chief claims Trump is “morally unfit” to be president, while Trump has called Comey a “slippery” “slimeball” who should be imprisoned for leaking classified information.
In a tweet Thursday night after the release of Comey’s memos, Trump wrote: “James Comey Memos just out and show clearly that there was NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION. Also, he leaked classified information. WOW! Will the Witch Hunt continue?”
The Journal noted Hillary Clinton was investigated for sending classified information through a private, unsecure email server while she was secretary of state.
Clinton’s defense was that that the information was unclassified at the time she circulated the emails and upgraded to classified later. However, Comey himself testified to Congress that the FBI found she sent emails that were classified at the time they were sent.
Comey took the unusual step of calling a news conference during the 2016 election campaign to announce that the FBI would not refer Clinton’s case to the Justice Department for prosecution, even though the bureau found she has been “extremely careless” in her handling of classified information.
Later, Comey announced the investigation into her emails was being reopened before closing it again just days before the November 2016 election.
Clinton has blamed her election loss on Comey’s actions.
Comey admitted that he hadn’t taken contemporaneous notes about his meetings with other presidents but decided to do so with President Trump.
He explained to Congress why he decided to hand over his notes.
“My judgment was, I need to get that out into the public square. I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. 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 said.