Reporter's Notebook

The Juiciest Nuggets From The IG’s Report On The Comey-Trump Memos

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August 29, 2019 12:10 pm

Beyond its rebuke of former FBI Director James Comey’s handling of President Trump-related memos, a Justice Department Inspector General report provides new information about how the memos came to be, how they made it into the hands of a Comey friend who leaked them to the press, and how the FBI learned that Comey was keeping and sharing his own copies of them.

Here’s a list of some of the reveals:

Comey Thought The First Memo He Wrote About a Trump Encounter Would Be The Last

How to brief Trump on the “salacious” claims in a Trump-Russia dossier was a topic of conversation at the FBI in early January 2017. FBI officials were seeking a “discreet” way to tell Trump about the claims, but they didn’t want to the incoming President to perceive the briefing as a “Hoover-esque type of plot” to hold information over him, according to the IG report.  They agreed that Trump’s response to the briefing —given one-on-one by Comey — might be relevant to the ongoing Russia probe. Comey also wanted a contemporaneous record of the briefing in case it became a “a source of controversy.” He said he didn’t have any plans to document his conversations with Trump beyond that.

Why Comey Shared The Memos With Only A Small Group at The FBI

Multiple people told the inspector general that Comey kept a tight hold on the memos — sharing them with only a small group of top officials — because he didn’t want them to impact the ongoing Russia probe.

A Whistleblower Provided the Inspector General a Set of the Memos

A short but tantalizing section of the report reveals that a unidentified DOJ whistleblower played a role in the inspector general’s investigation.

Page and Strzok Helped Assemble The Full Set of Memos After Comey Was Fired

Lisa Page and Peter Stzok — the FBI officials who later came under fire for their anti-Trump texts — collected a full set of memos and then uploaded them to the FBI’s case management system. They and others at the FBI told the inspector general they considered the memos to be FBI records, rather than personal documents, as Comey described them.

The Backstory On How A Comey Friend Became an NYT Source

Comey would ultimately share some of those memos with his friend, Daniel Richman with the instructions that Richman share it with the media. Earlier than that though, Comey told Richman about two meals he shared with the President in the first weeks of the administration and the “crazy story about the President wanting [Comey’s] loyalty.”  The anecdotes became the basis of a May 11, 2017 New York Times story and Richman admitted to the inspector general he was one of the Times’ sources. Richman said the reporter, who he had become friendly with, had called him two days prior to ask “what the hell is going on?” Comey said he had not instructed Richman to speak for that article on his behalf. Comey also didn’t know who the Times’ second source was for that story.

Prompted by Trump’s tweets claiming to have “tapes” of Comey conversations, Comey shared a memo of one of his Trump conversations with Richman on May 16. He did so by texting Richman a photo of the memo, and Richman described its contents to the reporter. The Times’ story about the memo indicated there was a second source, but no FBI official whom the inspector general interviewed knew who that source was.

The FBI Scramble To Retain the Memos That Comey Had Shared

When Comey revealed in congressional testimony he had shared the memos with a friend at Columbia Law School, there was a scramble at the FBI to get in touch with Richman, so that the bureau could get those memos back.

Richman cooperated with the FBI’s efforts to remove the memos from his computer and told the FBI that Comey had also shared some of the memos with his attorneys. Getting those memos off of Richman’s and the attorneys’ computer was a multistep process.

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