Rebuke of James Comey provokes chatter, but likely not resolution

Republicans quick to blast former FBI director, even if there’s not much new

Former FBI Director James Comey was rebuked in an inspector general report on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Former FBI Director James Comey was rebuked in an inspector general report on Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 29, 2019 at 2:05pm

There was just enough in Thursday’s rebuke of former FBI Director James Comey to get the Capitol Hill chattering class going, but likely not enough to settle the matter altogether or lead to any bombshell response from Congress or federal prosecutors.

The Justice Department’s office of inspector general released a report showing that the former director broke the FBI’s policies by holding on to contemporaneous memos he had drafted about meetings with President Donald Trump, and further broke from policy in leaking contents.

“By not safeguarding sensitive information obtained during the course of his FBI employment, and by using it to create public pressure for official action, Comey set a dangerous example for the over 35,000 current FBI employees — and the many thousands more former FBI employees — who similarly have access to or knowledge of non-public information,” the report said.

Democrats did not seem to find much new in the report, which did not find any disclosure of classified information to the media from the memos by either Comey or members of his legal team.

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But the IG report drew immediate praise from Republicans long critical of the former director and the FBI’s handling of an underlying probe of Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.

“The Inspector General’s report is a stunning and unprecedented rebuke of a former Director of the FBI,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham said in a statement. “This is the first of what I expect will be several more ugly and damning rebukes of senior DOJ and FBI officials regarding their actions and biases toward the Trump campaign of 2016.”

For his part, Comey responded to the report on Twitter by noting that it did not conclude he leaked classified information.

“And to all those who’ve spent two years talking about me ‘going to jail’ or being a ‘liar and a leaker’—ask yourselves why you still trust people who gave you bad info for so long, including the president,” Comey tweeted Thursday.

The White House doubled down.

“James Comey is a proven liar and leaker,” the White House said in a statement from press secretary Stephanie Grisham. “Because Comey shamefully leaked information to the press … the nation was forced to endure the baseless politically motivated two-year witch hunt.”

Even in blasting Comey, GOP lawmakers were generally careful in making the same distinction as the IG report did between classified and sensitive communications.

“Today’s report is a disappointing reminder that the former FBI Director put partisanship and personal ambition over patriotism and his legal obligations to the American people. By leaking his confidential communications with the President in an attempt to save face in the wake of his firing, Mr. Comey believed he was above the rules of the DOJ. His actions were disgraceful and part of a wider effort within the Obama Justice Department to undermine President Trump,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who is the ranking member on the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

Republicans praised IG Michael Horowitz for his critique of Comey, but Democrats on Capitol Hill largely demurred.

Former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller likely expressed the sentiment of other Democrats in a series of tweets responding to the report, however.

“This is perhaps the stupidest investigation the IG has ever done, and one of its dumber conclusions. Talk about fiddling while Rome burns,” Miller wrote. “The IG has basically faulted Comey for speeding on his way to tell the village that a fire was coming. Such a narrowly-scoped view of the world.”