Former FBI Director James Comey may have misled the public when he claimed in his recently released book that he only provided “one unclassified memo” to an associate with the purpose of sharing the contents with a reporter.
The associate, Columbia University professor Daniel Richman, told Fox News in May that he received four memos in total from Comey. Last week, citing “people familiar with the matter” the Wall Street Journal reported that the Justice Department’s watchdog opened a review of Comey’s actions in allegedly providing four memos to Richman to share with the news media.
Richman did not reply to a Slate.com request for comment on the total number of memos that he received from Comey. Slate reported that the Fox News report citing Richman as describing four separate memos “appears to be correct” based on “reporting in the Wall Street Journal along with Slate’s own reporting.”
Those characterizations clearly contrast with the following paragraph in Comey’s memoir describing what he gave to Richman:
Tuesday morning, after dawn, I contacted my good friend Dan Richman, a former prosecutor and now a professor at Columbia Law School. Dan had been giving me legal advice since my firing. I told him I was going to send him one unclassified memo and I wanted him to share the substance of the memo—but not the memo itself—with a reporter.
He does not write of sharing any more memos with Richman.
Comey is said to have authored seven memos in total memorializing his private conversations with Trump. The Washington Post reported that four of the memos contained classified information — two were classified as “confidential” and two more as secret.
Using simple mathematics, this means that if Comey provided Richman with four memos out of seven, one had to have contained material determined to have been classified.
According to the Journal report, Comey himself redacted portions of one of those two memos, but another portion later determined to be classified was not redacted:
Of those two memos, Mr. Comey himself redacted elements of one that he knew to be classified to protect secrets before he handed the documents over to his friend. He determined at the time that another memo contained no classified information, but after he left the Federal Bureau of Investigation, bureau officials upgraded it to ‘confidential,’ the lowest level of classification.”
Comey’s uncertainty about classification was highlighted in an email to colleagues introducing a Jan. 7, 2017 memo in which he stated that “I am unsure of the proper classification so I have chosen secret.”
The issue of what is classified also may come into play with regard to Comey’s admission in his memoir that he treated the memos like a personal “diary” and took home a memo detailing his conversations with Trump in a one-on-one White House dinner on Jan. 27, 2017.
As was my practice, I printed two copies of the memo. One I shared with the FBI senior leadership team and then had my chief of staff keep in his files. The other I locked up at home, for two reasons: I considered the memo my personal property, like a diary; and I was concerned that having accurate recollections of conversations with this president might be important someday, which, sadly, turned out to be true.
In testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee last June, Comey said he shared memos memorializing his private conversations with Donald Trump “with a friend” to in turn provide the contents to a reporter “because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.”