The seven memos written by James Comey while he was still FBI director about his conversations with President Donald Trump are illuminating while offering no new bombshells and prompting predictable reactions from both parties.
However, the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General has opened an investigation into whether memos Comey shared with a friend and lawyer outside government contained classified information, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
Trump fired Comey from the FBI post in May 2017.
So goes the latest chapter in the unfolding drama of the Justice Department and FBI investigations of 2016 presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, including allegations of political bias.
News broke Thursday that Justice’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, made a criminal referral to federal prosecutors about Comey’s No. 2, Andrew McCabe, for allegedly lying to investigators.
The partially redacted Comey memos were released later Thursday at the request of top House Republican committee chairmen.
Comey previously testified that he leaked a single memo to The New York Times through a friend, Columbia University law professor Daniel Richman, who later said he was Comey’s lawyer. Comey said he did that to help prompt the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Members of Congress sought to see the context of the seven Comey memos, each detailing a separate conversation with the president, which total 15 pages.
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?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 20, 2018
The release of #Comey Memos are further proof of @realDonaldTrump’s contempt for the rule of law. His attempts to intimidate, circumvent the law & undermine integrity of law enforcement investigations demand immediate action to protect the Mueller investigation. #FollowTheFacts
— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) April 20, 2018
Here are four key takeaways from the Comey memos.
1. Perception of Trump Talk
Comey wrote of speaking to Trump: “The conversation, which was pleasant at all times, was chaotic, with topics touched, left, then returned to later, making it very difficult to recount in a linear fashion.”
The FBI director added: “It really was a conversation-as-jigsaw-puzzle in a way, with pieces picked up, then discarded, then returned to.”
2. The Russia ‘Cloud’
Comey wrote about the newly elected president’s concern about the investigation of his campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia to win the election.
“He then said he was trying to run the country and the cloud of this Russia business was making that difficult,” Comey wrote of Trump. “He said he thinks he would have won the health care vote but for the cloud. He then went on at great length, explaining that he has nothing to do with Russia.”
Comey wrote in a memo that Trump told him he would sue Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence agent who wrote an anti-Trump dossier of unverified information that included an alleged encounter in 2013 between Trump and Russian prostitutes in Moscow.
“The president said ‘the hookers thing’ is nonsense but that Putin had told him ‘we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world,’” Comey wrote.
Comey said in an ABC News interview that aired Sunday night that he didn’t tell Trump that Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid for the Steele dossier as opposition research.
A joint statement by House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.; House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif.; and House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said:
Former Director Comey’s memos show the President made clear he wanted allegations of collusion, coordination, and conspiracy between his campaign and Russia fully investigated. The memos also made clear the ‘cloud’ President Trump wanted lifted was not the Russian interference in the 2016 election cloud, rather it was the salacious, unsubstantiated allegations related to personal conduct leveled in the dossier.
The memos also show former Director Comey never wrote that he felt obstructed or threatened. While former Director Comey went to great lengths to set dining room scenes, discuss height requirements, describe the multiple times he felt complimented, and myriad other extraneous facts, he never once mentioned the most relevant fact of all, which was whether he felt obstructed [by Trump] in his investigation.
In a related development, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez announced Friday that the DNC has sued the Trump campaign, Russia, and WikiLeaks, alleging a conspiracy that damaged the Democratic Party in the 2016 election.
The Democratic Party is suing the Trump campaign and Russia. Because winning elections also means protecting elections. https://t.co/9bMVqEkFdg
— Tom Perez (@TomPerez) April 20, 2018
3. Views of Colleagues at Justice
While promoting his book this week, Comey has had a somewhat public spat this past week with McCabe, his former top deputy at the FBI. However, Comey wrote in a memo that he spoke well of McCabe to Trump.
In one memo, Comey says Trump asked “whether ‘your guy McCabe’ has a problem with me, explaining that ‘I was pretty rough on him and his wife during the [presidential] campaign.’ I explained that Andy was a true professional and had no problem at all.”
Clinton confidant and then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s super PAC donated to the state Senate campaign of the deputy FBI director’s wife, Jill McCabe, who like McAuliffe and Clinton is a Democrat.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump and others suggested Andrew McCabe might have directed the FBI to go easy on Clinton during the FBI probe of her use of a private email server to conduct official business while she was secretary of state.
Comey had been critical of former President Barack Obama’s second attorney general, Loretta Lynch, for telling him the FBI should refer to the Clinton probe as a “matter” instead of an “investigation.”
In one memo, Comey compares Lynch unfavorably with Obama’s first attorney general, Eric Holder.
“He asked me to compare AG Holder and AG Lynch,” Comey wrote of Trump. “I said I thought AG Holder was smarter and more sophisticated and smoother than AG Lynch, who I added is a good person.”
In what seems a slight of other Justice Department colleagues, Comey wrote that he told Trump, “I don’t do sneaky things. I don’t leak. I don’t do weasel moves. I was not on anybody’s side politically and could not be counted on in that traditional political sense.”
The joint statement from Gowdy, Nunes, and Goodlatte questions why Comey kept memos for some encounters but not others:
The memos also make certain what has become increasingly clear of late: former Director Comey has at least two different standards in his interactions with others. He chose not to memorialize conversations with President Obama, Attorney General Lynch, Secretary Clinton, Andrew McCabe or others, but he immediately began to memorialize conversations with President Trump.
It is significant former Director Comey made no effort to memorialize conversations with former Attorney General Lynch despite concerns apparently significant enough to warrant his unprecedented appropriation of the charging decision away from her and the Department of Justice in July of 2016.
In July 2016, Comey announced that the FBI would not pursue criminal charges against Clinton for her use of the private email account to conduct sensitive foreign policy as Obama’s first secretary of state.
4. Jailing Journalists?
It’s well known that Trump is angered by leaks to the media. But one Comey memo says Trump wanted to use jail time to coerce reporters into revealing sources, because there is “something about the value of putting a head on a pike as a message.”
“He replied by saying it involves putting reporters in jail,” Comey wrote of the president.
He quoted Trump as saying: “They spend a couple of days in jail, make a new friend, and they are ready to talk.”