So a conservative talking point about Comey recently (both before and after his testimony) is that he is a leaker, because he admitted that he made public some of the contents of his conversations with the president.
It sounds to me like he publicly recounted a private conversation he had with the president. That’s not illegal, is it? Even if you (were) the FBI director? I mean, revealing the contents of a personal conversation can be a bit tacky or rude, just for two private citizens, but it’s not a crime as far as I know…
Comey revealed in yesterday’s testimony that he had given a copy of some of his “I met with the president” memos to a friend to pass along to the New York Times. He intended for the information to be made public after Trump accused Comey of lying and implied that he had tapes of the conversations. Nothing in the memos was classified and I’m not even sure it’s a violation of any policy given that they were his memos. In any event, this is nothing like leaking secrets about NSA programs or foreign intelligence. Comey said he went through a friend as a degree of separation – he felt if he personally delivered the memos, the press would be rabid on him.
Trump’s lawyers today said that they’d be filing a complaint with the Department of Justice Inspector General. CNN pointed out in a story this morning that, even if he were to be found in violation of some sort, the ‘solution’ is to put a note into Comey’s file in case he ever applies for work at the Justice Department again.
They were his own memos. He didn’t have to “leak” them, he could have simply sent them to the NYT himself or just post them online somewhere. They weren’t classified, presumably they could have been FOId if someone knew abut them. Leaking would be giving out others’ classified information. This wasn’t leaking.
I don’t know of any crime that this act would constitute.
If I were the President, my policy would certainly be that when I have a private conversation with a subordinate, it remains private. So from the Trump perspective, Comey’s act can probably safely be characterized as a violation of policy, and I am sure Comey was aware of that policy.
But that’s just a matter of job performance, and Trump has already weighed in on Comey’s job performance (again, in his view).
More to the point, I haven’t seen an argument yet for it being illegal. Which is what matters. Calling it a “leak” is just Trump messaging to the devout and trying to conflate it with actual illegal leak activities.
Is Comey a protected whistleblower? An interesting take on this:
“First of all, I don’t believe the inspector general would have jurisdiction over Comey any more, because he’s no longer a federal employee.” The inspector general’s job is to investigate wrongdoing by employees of the Justice Department, of which Comey is no longer, thanks to Trump. “But, second,” he continued, “initiating an investigation because you don’t like somebody’s testimony could be considered obstruction. And in the whistleblower context, it’s both evidence of retaliation and, under some laws, could be an adverse retaliatory act itself.”
In other words, Comey, here, is an employee who is blowing the whistle, to use the idiom, on his former boss. That boss wants to punish him for doing so. That’s problematic — especially if there’s no evidence that Comey actually violated any law that would trigger punishment.
Given that Trump is complaining to the premiere law enforcement organization of the United States and the response seems to be “Welp, I guess we can put a note in his permanent record next to his kindergarten grades” I think we’re safely outside the sphere of “illegal”.
If the information isn’t classified, I don’t believe there’s any law against communicating it to others, whether it’s verbally, in written form, or otherwise. What law might Comey have possibly violated? The fact that he freely admitted it leads me to believe that he expended some consideration over whether it would put him in any legal jeopardy.
Note that the law in question is in regards to embezzlement, not leaking. It also says “without authority” although one presumes that Comey had the authority to keep copies of his own memo. It also raises the question of whether his own copies are property of the government.
That note about Confidential is just bizarre (and leads me to believe that person has no experience with classified documents). It’s trivial and incredibly common to write a memo and deliberately leave out classified information, and nothing becomes classified merely because it might be politically damaging or because one’s boss might consider it small-c confidential.
There’s something of a strawman element to focusing a discussion on whether or not something is legal if the objections people are raising are not primarily legal ones. So if there’s a discussion of whether or not such-and-such is really illegal or not, it’s worth clarifying whether in fact this is a primary focus of people’s objections or whether the objections are primarily non-legal.