Former FBI director James Comey violated FBI policies in his handling of memos documenting private conversations with Donald Trump, the Justice Department’s inspector general has said.
The watchdog office said Mr Comey broke bureau rules by giving one memo containing unclassified information to a friend with instructions to share the contents with a reporter.
He also failed to return his memos to the FBI after he was dismissed in May 2017, retaining copies of some of them in a safe at home, and shared them with his personal lawyers, the report said.
“By not safeguarding sensitive information obtained during the course of his FBI employment, and by using it to create public pressure for official action, Comey set a dangerous example for the over 35,000 current FBI employees — and the many thousands more former FBI employees — who similarly have access to or knowledge of non-public information,” the report said.
The report is the second in as many years to criticise Mr Comey’s actions as FBI director, following a separate inspector general rebuke for decisions made during the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
It is one of multiple inspector general investigations undertaken in the last three years into the decisions and actions of Mr Comey and other senior FBI leaders.
The president, who has long regarded Mr Comey as one of his principal antagonists in a law enforcement community he sees as biased against him, cheered the conclusions on Twitter.
He wrote: “Perhaps never in the history of our Country has someone been more thoroughly disgraced and excoriated than James Comey in the just released Inspector General’s Report. He should be ashamed of himself!”
The White House in a separate statement called Mr Comey a “proven liar and leaker”.
But the report denied total vindication for Mr Trump and his supporters, who have repeatedly accused Mr Comey of leaking classified information. It found that none of the information shared by him or his lawyers with anyone in the media was classified, and the Justice Department has declined to prosecute him.
Mr Comey seized on that point in defending himself on Twitter, saying: “I don’t need a public apology from those who defamed me, but a quick message with a ‘sorry we lied about you’ would be nice.”
He added: “And 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.”
At issue in the report are seven memos Mr Comey wrote between January and April 2017 about conversations with Mr Trump that he found unnerving or unusual.
One week after he was fired, Mr Comey provided a copy of the memo about Flynn to Dan Richman, his personal lawyer and a close friend, and instructed him to share the contents with a specific reporter from the New York Times.
Mr Comey has said he wanted to make details of that conversation public to prompt the appointment of a special counsel to lead the FBI’s investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. Former FBI director Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel one day after the story broke.
The inspector general’s office found Mr Comey’s rationale lacking.
“In a country built on the rule of law, it is of utmost importance that all FBI employees adhere to department and FBI policies, particularly when confronted by what appear to be extraordinary circumstances or compelling personal convictions.
“Comey had several other lawful options available to him to advocate for the appointment of a Special Counsel, which he told us was his goal in making the disclosure.”
“What was not permitted was the unauthorised disclosure of sensitive investigative information, obtained during the course of FBI employment, in order to achieve a personally desired outcome.”
Mr Comey said he considered his memos to be personal rather than government documents, and it never would have occurred to him to give them back to the FBI after he was fired.
The inspector general’s office disagreed, citing policy that FBI employees must give up all documents with FBI information once they leave the bureau.