Beware the righteous man with power. That’s the great lesson of James Comey, as the 79-page report released Thursday by the Justice Department Inspector General makes clear. The former FBI director willfully violated multiple rules as he sought revenge against Donald Trump while pursuing his own self-interest in the name of higher virtue.
The report focuses on how Mr. Comey handled seven memos he wrote in 2017 about his interactions with Mr. Trump. IG Michael Horowitz finds that in treating his memos as personal documents rather than official FBI records, improperly storing them at home, failing to inform the bureau he had them, or leaking them to the press, Mr. Comey ignored FBI and Justice protocols and broke his employment agreement.
“By not safeguarding sensitive information” and “by using it to create public pressure for official action,” Mr. Comey “set a dangerous example” for every FBI employee, the IG says. Mr. Comey admitted that he violated the rules to cause the appointment of a special counsel after Mr. Trump fired him in May 2017.
“Comey said he was compelled to take these actions ‘if I love this country . . . and I love the Department of Justice, and I love the FBI,’” the report says. But the IG concludes that if everyone violated the rules “to achieve a personally desired outcome” as Mr. Comey did, “the FBI would be unable to dispatch its law enforcement duties properly.”
Translated from the bureaucratic prose: Mr. Comey thought he was above the rules because he wanted to save the country from Mr. Trump. No doubt J. Edgar Hoover felt a similar afflatus as he wiretapped Martin Luther King.
Start with the first item on the IG’s timeline: Mr. Comey’s meeting with Mr. Trump on January 6, 2017. The ostensible purpose was for security chiefs to brief the President-elect about the intelligence community’s findings about Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mr. Comey was also to brief Mr. Trump one-on-one about the salacious allegations in the Steele dossier.
In his first memo, Mr. Comey says he told Mr. Trump that news organizations like CNN had the dossier and were looking for a “news hook” so they could publish the contents. Indeed they were, and the briefing now looks like a setup to give them that hook.
Mr. Comey was also disingenuous when he assured Mr. Trump — “repeated assurances,” notes the IG—that he “had not been named as a subject in an FBI investigation.” Even Mr. Comey’s own FBI counsel, James Baker, thought that was fudging matters given that the FBI was looking into the Trump campaign.
Congress was treated no better. The IG quotes Mr. Comey’s testimony to the House Intelligence Committee when he said he couldn’t be more forthcoming about the Russia investigation because “the FBI is very careful in how we handle information” and “we just cannot do our work well or fairly if we start talking about it while we’re doing it.” Two months later, Mr. Comey leaked one of his memos to a friend, Daniel Richman, with the request that he share its contents with the New York Times.
Mr. Comey also deceived the FBI he claims to revere. Even Mr. Comey’s top staff didn’t buy his claim that memos he wrote as FBI director detailing interactions with the President were his personal property and not the federal government’s. The day after he was fired, an FBI agent came to his house to retrieve FBI property. Mr. Comey didn’t tell him he had copies of four of the memos in his personal safe.
Two days later, three agents plus the FBI’s deputy associate director and chief of staff again came to the house to retrieve government material, and again he failed to tell them about the memos in his safe. Nor did he tell anyone he had emailed copies of some memos to his personal attorneys.
The FBI first learned that Mr. Comey had shared at least one of the memos with someone outside the FBI during his June 8, 2017 congressional testimony. The IG says “members of Comey’s senior leadership” team used words such as “stunned” and “disappointment” to describe their reactions to learning their former boss had leaked a memo to the press through a friend.
These violations may not be crimes, and the Justice Department declined to prosecute after referral by the IG. But they are unacceptable in someone who had Mr. Comey’s authority and has made his career assailing others for lesser offenses. They show again why Mr. Trump was right to fire him.
Yet true to form, Mr. Comey took to Twitter Thursday to suggest his critics owe him an apology, because the IG didn’t find he had released the classified information contained in his memos to the media. Mr. Comey is lucky the judicious Bill Barr is Attorney General rather than a righteous Jim Comey.
This was only the first IG report, and we’ll learn more when he reports soon on Mr. Comey’s role in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants taken out on a former Trump campaign adviser. Even without prosecution, the American public is finally getting an honest account of the real James Comey, an FBI director so in awe of his own righteousness that he believed none of the rules applied to him.
— The Wall Street Journal