Former FBI Director James Comey “violated” department policies and his employment agreement by having a confidential memo about his interactions with President Donald Trump leaked to the media shortly after being fired by Trump in May 2017, the Justice Department’s inspector general concluded in a long awaited report released on Thursday.
The unclassified memo, one of seven Comey wrote about his one-on-one meetings with Trump during the first four months of his administration, detailed how Trump asked him in the Oval Office to drop the investigation of Michael Flynn, the former national security advisor. Trump's apparent call for an end to the investigation, which the president has denied, was later examined by former special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice.
The inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, provided his factual findings to the Justice Department for a prosecutorial decision regarding Comey's conduct, but the Justice Department declined to prosecute for lack of evidence that Comey intentionally disclosed classified information in violation of federal law.
Comey kept copies of four of his seven memos after he was fired and later provided the Flynn memo to a friend, Columbia law professor Daniel Richman, with instructions to share its contents with a New York Times reporter. The newspaper published a story based on the memo the same day. The allegation that Trump may have interfered with the ongoing FBI investigation led the Justice Department to appoint Mueller as special counsel.
The 83-page inspector general report says that Comey kept the memo "without authorization" and that the memo contained information "to both the FBI's ongoing investigation of Flynn, and by Comey's own account, information that he believed and alleged constituted evidence of an attempt to obstruct the ongoing Flynn investigation."
“By not safeguarding sensitive information obtained during the course of his FBI employment, and 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 says.
The inspector general opened an investigation into Comey’s handling of his private memos after the FBI determined that the former bureau director may have shared memos that contained classified information with individuals outside the bureau.
Comey has defended his handling of the memos, writing in a memoir published last year that the disclosure of the memo was not a "leak" and that a private citizens can share unclassified information with the press.
In a report released last year, the inspector general criticized Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe during the 2016 presidential election but said investigators found no evidence that Comey's conduct was politically motivated.