WASHINGTON — Former FBI director James Comey violated Justice Department and FBI policies as well as his employment agreement when he shared memos he'd written about his conversations with President Donald Trump, the Justice Department's watchdog arm concluded in a new report — but he won't face criminal charges.
In the months before Trump fired Comey in May 2017, Comey wrote seven memos describing private conversations he'd had with Trump. He gave one of those memos to a friend to share with the New York Times, kept copies of some of the memos at home, and shared some of them with his lawyers without telling the FBI. Those were all violations, the Justice Department inspector general's office concluded in a report released Thursday.
"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 inspector general's office wrote in its report.
Some of Comey's memos included classified information, and the inspector general's office turned over its findings to the Justice Department to decide whether to press criminal charges. The department declined to do so, according to the report; multiple news outlets reported earlier this month that Comey would not face charges. A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment.
Comey responded to the report on Twitter, highlighting a finding by the inspector general that neither Comey nor his lawyers released classified information to the media. Comey wrote, "I don't need a public apology from those who defamed me, buta quick message with a 'sorry we lied about you' would be nice."
He added in a follow-up tweet: "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."
Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a statement calling Comey "a proven liar and leaker."
"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," Grisham said.
Comey served as FBI director from September 2013 until his firing in May 2017. At the time, Trump cited memos from then–attorney general Jeff Sessions and then–deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein — Rosenstein wrote that Comey had mishandled the conclusion of the FBI's investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of state, and that the FBI was "unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a Director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them."
"Having refused to admit his errors, [Comey] cannot be expected to implement the necessary corrective actions," Rosenstein wrote.
Soon after he was fired, the New York Times reported on a memo Comey had written about a February conversation with Trump: Comey alleged that Trump asked him to end the investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser.
Appearing before Congress a few months later, Comey testified that he'd written a series of memos about his interactions with Trump, saying he did so because he was afraid that Trump would "lie" about their conversations if confronted in the future. In one memo, Comey described Trump demanding "loyalty" from him.
Comey considered all but one of his memos to be "personal documents" and kept four of the original copies in a safe at his home, according to the inspector general's report. On May 16, 2017, he shared one of the memos with his friend Daniel Richman, a professor at Columbia Law School, with instructions to share with the New York Times; although some of the memos contained classified information, that one did not, the inspector general's office noted. It did include information about the then-pending investigation into Flynn, however. Richman declined to comment.
The inspector general's office previously released a report critical of Comey's handling of the Clinton emails investigation, calling him "insubordinate" for holding a press conference in July 2016 to announce the FBI's conclusions without coordinating with other senior DOJ officials. His decision to reveal information about the Flynn investigation via his memo "merits similar criticism," the inspector general's office wrote.
Comey had defended his actions by saying that he had created the memos and shared information about them because "I love this country...and I love the Department of Justice, and I love the FBI." But the inspector general's office said that if other current or former FBI officials followed Comey's example and shared sensitive information, the bureau "would be unable to dispatch its law enforcement duties properly."
"Even when these employees believe that their most strongly-held personal convictions might be served by an unauthorized disclosure, the FBI depends on them not to disclose sensitive information," the inspector general's office wrote. "Former Director Comey failed to live up to this responsibility."
Updated with comment from James Comey and Stephanie Grisham, as well as responses from DOJ and Danie Richman.