When is a leak not a leak? James Comey sat down with Bret Baier to promote his book A Higher Loyalty last night, having already taken an unexpected beating from Anderson Cooper on the same point in a CNN town hall on Wednesday. John wrote about Comey’s surprising ignorance on the funding of the Steele dossier, but the issue of leaking deserves its own focus. Baier pressed harder on the point in this interview, prompting Comey to add another dollop of rationalization to his twisting version of what a leak actually means:
“That memo was unclassified then,” Comey told anchor Bret Baier during an appearance on “Special Report.” “It’s still unclassified. It’s in my book. The FBI cleared that book before it could be published.”
Comey acknowledged giving the memos to at least three people including his friend, Columbia University law professor Daniel Richman. He said he sent Richman a copy of the two-page unclassified memo and “asked him to get the substance of it out to the media.”
“The reason I’m smiling, Bret,” Comey said. “I don’t consider what I shared Mr. Richman a leak. … I gave the memos to my legal team after I gave them to Dan Richman — after I asked him to get it out to the media,” he said.
Ahem. Comey gets into all sorts of various explanations about how leaks have to disclose classified information to be leaks, how these were akin to diary entries, he was an Original Classification Authority, and other attempts to justify his actions here. We can counter these all day by noting that leaks don’t have to be of classified information to be actionable, which Andrew McCabe is discovering thanks in part to James Comey dropping a dime on him. We can also point out that memos to file by a government official are very pointedly work products and not personal diaries, even after that government official gets fired.
Let’s just ask this question. If it was okay for Comey to have that material released to the media, why didn’t he do it himself? Comey likes to opine on ethics and integrity, but that cuts to the heart of the conceit. Having someone else give information to the media that you acquired through your position as a government official is a leak, and that makes Comey a leaker even if he doesn’t get prosecuted or sanctioned for it. It’s such a basic point that it beggars belief that Comey thinks it can be rationalized at all.
On CNN, Comey explained that he gave one memo to Richman to leak. But later, he gave Richman four memos, including the one he gave Richman originally. But he only gave Richman one memo for the purpose of being leaked, and the rest he gave Richman after he, Comey, retained Richman as one of his personal lawyers.
“After I was fired I put together a legal team with three people, one of whom was Professor Dan Richmond at Columbia University,” Comey told CNN. “After I had asked him to give this information to the media I separately gave my legal team four memos which were unclassified. They included the one that he had gotten to give the substance of it to give the New York Times.”
So Comey gave Richman four memos, but only one at first, and then the other three later, and then as part of his “legal team.” And none were leaked, although Comey authorized Richman to “communicate the substance” of one memo, although not the memo itself, to the press, although the memo ended up being quoted in the resulting news story. …
In all, it’s a very complicated story, one in which Comey insists he did nothing wrong, no matter how it looks.
It’s become rather clear over the last couple of years that Comey’s “higher loyalty” is to himself, or rather to his self-image.
Here’s the full interview, which picks up at the 11-minute mark due to Comey having gotten caught in traffic. Baier comes across as well prepared, as does James Comey, but Baeir manages to score points. For instance, as John noted last night, Comey stuns Baier by claiming that “Republicans” first funded Christopher Steele’s efforts on the dossier, which has been shown to be flat-out untrue. Comey then says he can’t say that Democrats funded it because he doesn’t know which specific Democrats funded that Fusion GPS effort, even though — again — the sourcing has been pretty well documented.
Comey’s gotten used to being on the defensive — he’s been there at least since July 2016, if not earlier — but he’s still not quite aware how broad that defense has to be. The leak explanation is nonsense, and his rather smug certainty about his own self-justification does nothing for his credibility.