The justice department’s Office of the Inspector General on Thursday released a report finding that former FBI director James Comey violated department policies when he shared memos on his interactions with Donald Trump in the early stages of the administration.
The report noted that the department had declined to pursue prosecution against Comey, but concluded: “Comey’s retention, handling and dissemination of certain memos violated department and FBI policies, and his FBI employment agreement.”
The former official’s memos involved notes Comey took of highly sensitive interactions he had with Donald Trump in early 2017, which ended up as one of the spurs to the former special counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year investigation into whether Trump and his election campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election or subsequently obstructed justice.
The Trump White House has long claimed that the investigation was improper and attacked Comey, whom Trump fired early in his presidency, for his part in sparking it.
Among the most prominent memos, the former FBI director alleged the president expressed hope in a private meeting in 2017 that Comey would “let go” of an investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump’s short-lived national security adviser.
Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI about conversations he had had about US sanctions on Russia with ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn had resigned in February 2017, less than a month into the Trump administration, after it was discovered he lied to the vice-president, Mike Pence, about his interactions with Kislyak.
Comey said Trump also demanded that he express loyalty to him as the president, a claim that Trump has flatly denied. “I hardly know the man,” Trump said in 2017. “I’m not going to say: ‘I want you to pledge allegiance.’ Who would do that?”
The inspector general’s report centers on a series of memos Comey wrote detailing his personal interactions with Trump and whether the release of some of those memos exposed classified information. Comey was fired by Trump in May 2017.
The contents of the memos, some of which Comey shared with a friend who in turn provided them to the New York Times, helped launch Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation.
Trump has repeatedly accused Comey of being a “leaker” for sharing the memos, but the justice department declined to prosecute.
Nonetheless, the justice department inspector general found that Comey’s actions “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”.
Comey, who has become an outspoken critic of the president since his firinghit back via Twitter on Thursday.
Trump later also weighed in on social media.
The inspector general did not conclude that Comey had leaked classified information, as Trump has claimed.
The watchdog confirmed that it “found no evidence that Comey or his attorneys released any of the classified information contained in any of the memos to members of the media”.
The White House later issued a statement, saying: “James Comey is a proven liar and leaker. The inspector general’s report shows Comey violated the most basic obligations of confidentiality that he owed to the United States government and to the American people, ‘in order to achieve a personally desired outcome’.”
It added: “Because Comey shamefully leaked information to the press – in blatant violation of FBI policies – the nation was forced to endure the baseless politically motivated, two-year witch-hunt. Comey disgraced himself and his office to further a personal political agenda, and this report further confirms that fact.”