Former FBI Director James Comey denied being a leaker on Wednesday during a contentious exchange at a CNN town hall hosted by Anderson Cooper.
Cooper was pressing Comey over his decision after being fired in May 2017 to give a friend four memos he wrote after conversations with President Donald Trump. The Justice Department’s office of the inspector general is reportedly investigating Comey’s handling of the documents — two of which contain classified information.
Comey denied he broke the law in handling the memos, which he gave to Daniel Richman, a Columbia law school professor.
“But … you did leak memos. Is it okay for somebody at the FBI to leak something, an internal document, even if it’s not classified?” Cooper asked Comey.
“There’s a whole lot wrong with your question, Anderson,” Comey replied. “First, I didn’t leak memos. I asked a friend to communicate the substance … one unclassified memo to the media, and I was a private citizen.”
Comey instructed Richman to provide details of one of his memos to The New York Times. The newspaper subsequently reported Comey’s claims about a conversation he had with Trump in the Oval Office on March 14, 2017. Comey said Trump asked him to back off of an investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn.
Comey has acknowledged he gave Richman the memos after Trump fired him in order to spark the special counsel’s investigation.
Cooper pressed Comey on his definition of a leak.
“I think of a leak as an unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” Comey said.
“That’s it?” Cooper replied.
“You gave up a document that was released to The New York Times,” Cooper continued. “[The] FBI gets upset when people make unauthorized disclosure about protected information,” the CNN host noted.
“That’s how I think about it as a lawyer and the director of the FBI,” Comey added.
“I intentionally gave this information to a friend, intending that it be out in the media. I wanted it to get out in the media. As a private citizen, I could do that and did do that just as I written about it in my book,” he added, referring to his memoir, “A Higher Loyalty.”
Comey’s denial of being a leaker contradicts comments he made in an interview earlier this month with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.
“President’s tweeted innumerable times calling you a leaker — because of that. First of all, what’s your response to President Trump?” Stephanopoulos asked.
Comey acknowledged being a leaker, saying, “Look, it’s true, I mean, I’m the one who testified about it, that’s how people know about it, that I gave that unclassified — this is a whole other conversation about whether you can leak unclassified information, I don’t want to get involved in that.”
“I gave that unclassified memo to my friend, who was also acting as my lawyer, but this wasn’t a lawyer task, and asked him to give it to a reporter. That is entirely appropriate,” Comey added.
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