One of the many surprising presidential admissions in Trump’s bananas “Fox & Friends” interview this morning was that he caught the Comey town hall on CNN last night — and thought Anderson Cooper did a good job! Watch four minutes of the clip below and you’ll see why.
Comey defines “leak” in the formal legal way, namely, an unauthorized disclosure of classified information. The idea is captured in the term itself: Certain info would be too dangerous to U.S. national security if it circulated freely so the government dams it up and seals it off. When that info reaches the public domain anyway, it’s said to have leaked through the dam. I can’t be a “leaker,” says Comey, because none of the unredacted information in the memos I shared was classified (in my official opinion). It was never required to be sealed behind the dam. Okay, says Cooper, but what about the fact that some info in the memos was retroactively classified by other government officials? Well, says Comey, that’s just a difference of opinion. I was an Original Classification Authority, you know.
But wait, Cooper replies. Isn’t it true that if one of your underlings at the FBI was caught feeding information to reporters, even if it wasn’t classified, you would have flipped your lid? Cooper’s defining “leak” in the more colloquial way, as an unauthorized disclosure of any nonpublic information. Our government has a longstanding, bipartisan problem in erring on the side of secrecy in the information it gathers. That’s the nature of bureaucracies generally and the nature of law-enforcement bureaucracies in particular, since knowing what the police know is an advantage for bad guys. If an FBI deputy circulated an unclassified memo he’d written about a private conversation with the president, surely he’d catch hell from the Bureau for it, Cooper suggests.
Yeah, well, I wasn’t a Bureau employee when I shared the memos, says Comey. I was a private citizen. Which is a pitiful answer from Cooper’s perspective, whatever its legal salience in protecting Comey from prosecution. It reeks of vindictiveness. If there was a public interest in keeping the memos secret the day before Comey was fired, why didn’t that public interest matter the day after he was fired? Comey’s spent the last two weeks lecturing America about the momentous importance of civic virtue. It’s hard to understand why his civic duty to share the troubling things Trump said to him in confidence as FBI director didn’t kick in until he was no longer collecting a federal paycheck.
What Comey could have and should have said here was that the fact of his firing changed his assessment of the public interest. Until he was terminated, he might have claimed, he didn’t know if Trump’s nudges about going easy on Michael Flynn evinced any meaningful intent to obstruct the Russiagate probe or were just shady exhortations about the outcome he’d like to see. Once Trump brought down the axe on him and then claimed he had tapes of their conversations that would disprove Comey’s allegations about what had been said between them, then it was clear that Russiagate was in danger. The public interest in knowing the president’s designs on the investigation suddenly overrode the interest in keeping Comey’s conversations with the president private. Comey has said things like that before, stressing in other interviews that he shared the memos only after Trump attacked his credibility about what POTUS had said to him, but he didn’t explain it here. His retreat into “well, I was a private citizen” feels glib, almost an admission that sharing the memos *was* wrong in principle but something he did just because he was suddenly beyond the feds’ reach and thought he could get away with it.
Here’s the key exchange, but the whole town hall event is included in the clip if you’re game for it. POTUS, by the way, also told “Fox & Friends” this morning that he never told Comey that he didn’t stay overnight in Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant in 2013. “I went to Russia for a day or so. A day or two… Of course I stayed there,” he told F&F. Did Comey misremember what Trump had said or is Trump lying now? Lordy, I wish there were tapes.