President Trump fired another Twitter broadside at James Comey on Monday after a new report that the memos written by the fired FBI director about their conversations contained classified information.
But Comey previously testified that the memo he shared with a friend, who in turn leaked it to the New York Times, did not contain classified information. And a wide range of legal experts previously defended the legality of Comey’s doing so.
“James Comey leaked CLASSIFIED INFORMATION to the media,” Trump wrote on Twitter early Monday. “That is so illegal!”
James Comey leaked CLASSIFIED INFORMATION to the media. That is so illegal!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 10, 2017
The president also retweeted a “Fox & Friends” segment on the report, which was published by The Hill on Sunday night.
Report accuses material James Comey leaked to a friend contained top secret information pic.twitter.com/Hkg4cAb6o9
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) July 10, 2017
The Hill report, by John Solomon, cites “officials familiar with the documents” who say more than half of the contemporaneous memos written by Comey after his conversations with Trump were determined to have contained classified information.
According to The Hill, a total of seven memos were prepared by Comey; four were marked as classified at the secret or confidential level.
But in his testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee last month, Comey said that “the memo” he shared with his friend about a conversation he had with Trump about the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn was not marked classified.
In that conversation, Comey testified that Trump told him, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”
“I remember thinking, ‘This is a very disturbing development, really important to our work,’” Comey told the committee. “I need to document it and preserve it in a way … that doesn’t include anything of a classification, that would make it easier for us to discuss within the FBI and the government.”
Comey said that Trump’s tweet hinting there were secret tapes of their conversations prompted him to ask Daniel Richman, a Columbia law professor, to share the content of that memo with the Times, and that as a private citizen felt he had the right to share it.
“I understood this to be my recollection recorded of my conversation with the president,” Comey testified. “As a private citizen, I thought it important to get it out.”
Following the testimony, Trump’s personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, released a statement arguing Comey’s disclosure constituted an “unauthorized disclosure of private information” — and suggesting that all conversations with the president fall under executive privilege.
But most legal experts disagreed.
“Executive privilege almost certainly does not cover the Comey memo,” Steve Vladeck, a professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law specializing in national security, wrote at the time. “And even if it did, disclosing it without authorization isn’t illegal.”
“A leak is not any conversation,” Jed Shugerman, a Fordham University law professor, told Vox.com. “It specifically means the release of secret or classified information. None of this material was classified, as Comey carefully and clearly explained.”
Trump has repeatedly blasted Comey for leaking the memos, calling his former FBI director “cowardly” for doing so.
“I believe the James Comey leaks will be far more prevalent than anyone ever thought possible,” Trump tweeted on June 11. “Totally illegal? Very ‘cowardly!’”
I believe the James Comey leaks will be far more prevalent than anyone ever thought possible. Totally illegal? Very 'cowardly!'
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 11, 2017
The president fired Comey in May. The White House said Trump did so based on the recommendations of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, but Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that he was going to fire Comey regardless of their advice.
“And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,'” Trump said.
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