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Justice Department Watchdog: Comey Violated Policy Related To Trump Memos


Today, the conclusion of a story that dates back to the election of 2016. This morning, the Justice Department's independent watchdog concluded its investigation into the actions of former FBI Director James Comey. DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz was tasked with finding whether Comey acted improperly. And NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas is here to talk about it. Hey there, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: Tell me about the origins of this IG investigation in the first place.

LUCAS: So this is an investigation into how Comey handled a set of contemporaneous memos that he wrote about one-on-one conversations he had with Donald Trump. Comey said that he wrote them because he was worried about the president and that he might lie about these discussions. The first one that Comey wrote was in January of 2017 - so before Trump was actually inaugurated. The last one dates from April of 2017 - so shortly before Trump fired Comey.

The public learned of these when The New York Times reported in May of 2017 that Comey had written a memo about a conversation with Trump at the White House in which Trump asked Comey to end the investigation into Trump's first national security advisor, Michael Flynn. Comey later told Congress that he had orchestrated that news to come out. He had a friend provide the Times with contents of one of the memos to get the news out, possibly spur the appointment of a special counsel, which, of course, ended up happening.

GREENE: Right.

LUCAS: Trump has accused Comey of being a leaker over these memos. The FBI referred the matter to the Justice Department's inspector general - that's Michael Horowitz - to review them to see whether Comey violated any laws or department policies in his handling of these.

GREENE: And what did the IG find? Did he violate any policies or law?

LUCAS: Well, he found that Comey did - with some of these memos, what he did with them - his retention, his handling, how he disseminated them - did, yes, indeed violate department and FBI policies, including his FBI employment agreement. Comey kept four of the memos at his home in a safe. That violated FBI policies and his employment agreement. He didn't tell the FBI that he had them there - also violated his employment agreement by providing copies of these memos to his private attorneys without getting the FBI's approval. And he also failed to alert the FBI that he did so.

And that was particularly a problem because the FBI determined that several words, names of foreign countries, in particular, were classified as confidential. Now, also important to note, the IG says in the report that it found no evidence that Comey or his attorneys released any classified information to the media.

GREENE: OK. So does anything happen to Comey now? Or what happens next year because of this?

LUCAS: Well, he gets a lot of criticism in this report. But the inspector general also says that, you know, he provided these findings to the Justice Department so that it could make a decision on whether to prosecute Comey or not. The department declined to do so. So Comey will not be charged over any of this - any of these memos. The legal side of this has concluded, so - but look; this is still political. The president may go after Comey on Twitter over this. That is just part of the political give-and-take between these two.

GREENE: NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thanks, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.