WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department has decided not to prosecute former FBI Director James Comey despite an internal investigation that found he improperly leaked information to the news media, the department’s Office of Inspector General said on Thursday.
FILE PHOTO: Former FBI Director James Comey departs after giving a private deposition to the House Judiciary and House Government and Oversight committees on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
The inspector general’s office, which serves as the Justice Department’s internal watchdog, said Comey shared a handwritten memo with a friend who described it to the New York Times, in an effort by Comey to pressure the agency to launch an independent investigation into his conversations with President Donald Trump.
The memo described a private conversation in which Trump allegedly asked Comey to drop the FBI’s investigation into his then-national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Flynn has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russian officials.
The Justice Department’s report is the latest development in an ongoing fight between Comey, who authorized opening an investigation in the president’s 2016 election campaign and ties with Russia, and Trump, who contends that the investigation should never have begun.
That investigation, headed by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, unearthed numerous contacts between the campaign and Russian officials but concluded that there was not enough evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy.
Mueller’s final report did not reach a conclusion as to whether Trump’s efforts to interfere with the probe amounted to criminal obstruction of justice, but it did not exonerate the president either. Attorney General William Barr concluded that he did not see enough evidence to bring obstruction charges.
Democrats in Congress are split as to whether Trump should be impeached for the actions detailed in Mueller’s report, while Republicans have largely stood by the president.
Comey decided to share the contents of his memo after Trump fired him in May 2017.
The Inspector General’s report said that while that memo did not contain classified material, Comey set a dangerous example when he shared sensitive information to create public pressure for official action.
“Were current or former FBI employees to follow the former Director’s example and disclose sensitive information in service of their own strongly held personal convictions, the FBI would be unable to dispatch its law enforcement duties properly,” the report said.
Comey should not have kept memos detailing his interactions with Trump after he was fired because they were official FBI documents, the report said.
Comey said on Twitter that people who have accused him of sharing classified information should apologize.
“To all those who’ve spent two years talking about me ‘going to jail’ or being a ‘liar and a leaker’—ask yourselves why you still trust people who gave you bad info for so long, including the president,” he said.
Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Sonya Hepinstall