Wednesday May 2, 2018
Former FBI Director James Comey continues to market his book – and himself – as a lesson in “ethical leadership.” However, the historical record is proving increasingly at odds with Comey’s account and image. After months of spins and swerves by defenders, a consensus is emerging that Comey is indeed a leaker. The most damaging evidence, however, comes not from Comey’s critics but Comey himself. Indeed, Comey v. Comey could be the most telling conflict in this still unfolding scandal. However, at issue, is not simply whether Comey will be viewed as a leaker or a liar, but a perjurer.
Comey’s crumbling defense was most evident in his interview last week with Anderson Cooper when Cooper challenged his self-serving definition of a leak as only involving classified information. That is manifestly wrong, as Cooper correctly pointed out, since leaks often involve unclassified but still non-public information.
Agency rules (including most notably the FBI’s rules) ban the release of non-public agency information whether or not it has been classified. Indeed, many leak investigations (including some under Comey) do not involve classified information, such as leaks about White House meetings or non-public statements. The FBI, including Director Andrew Wray, confirmed that the Comey memos were not his documents (as he continues to implausibly maintain) but rather FBI material subject to rules of nondisclosure. Nevertheless, Comey gave at least four memos to Columbia University law professor Daniel Richman to leak information to the media.
However, in the ongoing Inspector General’s investigation into his conduct, Comey’s defense could ultimately collide with Comey’s own (prior) interpretation. In the last two weeks, the divide between Comey and his former deputy (and acting FBI Director) Andrew McCabe widens. McCabe has claimed that Comey knew about his giving non-public information to the Wall Street Journal. McCabe’s counsel directly challenged Comey and said that the public should not buy Comey’s “white knight” account of his own conduct. Comey responded by publicly stating that McCabe was found to be a liar by the IG and that he was the one who called for an investigation into the “leak.” That’s the problem.