Could it be that James Comey is under investigation for a “years-old leak of classified information”? The New York Times reported on Thursday evening that it appears prosecutors have fixed their gaze on the fired FBI Director.
President Donald Trump calling for—and getting–investigations of his enemies is not without precedent, so it didn’t take long for “suspicions” to be raised about the timing of this news, and whether the probe is politically motivated.
The Times itself raised such suspicions, considering “prosecutors and F.B.I. agents typically investigate leaks of classified information around the time they appear in the news media, not years later.” Instead, the investigation is said to have begun in “recent months.”
National security lawyer Mark Zaid, one of the lawyers representing the Ukraine whistleblower, said “there’s many legitimate reasons why [an] investigation could be kicked off years after disclosure.” He also said, however, that this investigation “should raise suspicions (or at least eyebrows) to any reasonable person,” given that it focuses on Comey.
National security lawyer Bradley P. Moss, a partner at Zaid’s firm, suggested Trump’s fingerprints are all over this.
Others legal commentators said similar things.
Conservatives and allies of the president were also quick to react to the story, some criticizing the way the story was reported and others cheering the existence of the Comey-focused probe.
What is being examined, you ask? The leak of details to the media about a “Russian intelligence document” that reportedly “played a key role” in Comey’s decision to hold a July 2016 news conference announcing that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would not be charged over private email server use. The Russian intelligence document included an unverified email that was apparently troubling enough to Comey that he decided to take matters into his own hands and sidestep then-AG Loretta Lynch:
In the email, Ms. Wasserman Schultz suggested that then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch would make sure that Mrs. Clinton would not be prosecuted in the email case. Both Ms. Wasserman Schultz and Mr. Benardo have denied being in contact, suggesting the document was meant to be Russian disinformation.
That document was one of the key factors that drove Mr. Comey to hold a news conference in July 2016 announcing that investigators would recommend no charges against Mrs. Clinton. Typically, senior Justice Department officials would decide how to proceed in such a high-profile case, but Mr. Comey was concerned that if Ms. Lynch played a central role in deciding whether to charge Mrs. Clinton, Russia could leak the email.
“Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case,” Comey said at the time.
Comey was, and continues to be, widely criticized for that news conference.
In June 2018, DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz called the move “extraordinary and insubordinate.” He also called out Comey for his “serious error of judgment” in sending a letter to Congress announcing the Clinton probe was being reopened days before the 2016 election. In Aug. 2019, Horowitz also found that Comey violated his FBI employment agreement, and Department of Justice and FBI policy through the “retention, handling, and dissemination of certain Memos.” This was the culmination of an investigation into Comey’s keeping and dissemination of memos of his meetings with President Trump in 2017.
“Comey’s unauthorized disclosure of sensitive law enforcement information about the Flynn investigation merits similar criticism. In a country built on the rule of law, it is of utmost importance that all FBI employees adhere to Department and FBI policies, particularly when confronted by what appear to be extraordinary circumstances or compelling personal convictions,” Horowitz said. “Comey had several other lawful options available to him to advocate for the appointment of a Special Counsel, which he told us was his goal in making the disclosure. What was not permitted was the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive investigative information, obtained during the course of FBI employment, in order to achieve a personally desired outcome.”
[Image via Alex Wong/Getty Images]
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