Fired FBI chief James Comey used his private Gmail account hundreds of times to conduct government business — and at least seven of those messages were deemed so sensitive by the Justice Department that they declined to release them. The former top ...and more »
Fired FBI chief James Comey used his private Gmail account hundreds of times to conduct government business — and at least seven of those messages were deemed so sensitive by the Justice Department that they declined to release them.
The former top G-man repeatedly claimed he only used his private account for “incidental” purposes and never for anything that was classified — and that appears to be true.
But Justice acknowledged in response to a Freedom of Information request that Comey and his chief of staff discussed government business on about 1,200 pages of messages, 156 of which were obtained by The Post.
The Cause of Action Institute, a conservative watchdog group, filed a Freedom of Information lawsuit for Comey’s Gmail correspondence involving his work for the bureau.
The Justice Department responded that there were an eye-popping 1,200 pages of messages for Comey and his chief of staff that met the criteria.
Justice released 156 of them but refused to hand over seven emails because they would “disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions.” And another 363 pages of emails were withheld because they discussed privileged agency communications or out of personal privacy concerns.
Cause of Action’s CEO slammed the former top G-man for minimizing the work he did using his private account. “Using private email to conduct official government business endangers transparency and accountability, and that is why we sued the Department of Justice,” said John Vecchione.
“We’re deeply concerned that the FBI withheld numerous emails citing FOIA’s law enforcement exemption. This runs counter to Comey’s statements that his use of email was incidental and never involved any sensitive matters.”
In one email on Oct. 7, 2015, Comey seems to recognize the hypocrisy of the FBI investigating Hillary Clinton’s email practices while he’s exchanging FBI info on his own private account because his government account was down.
Two days after complaining that his “mobile is not sending emails,” Comey asked an aide that the testimony he was to deliver to the Senate be sent on his private account — calling it an “embarrassing” situation.
“He [aide] will need to send to personal email I suppose,” Comey wrote. “Embarrassing for us.”
Lisa Rosenberg, executive director of Open the Government, a nonpartisan coalition that advocates for government transparency, said Comey’s practice of using personal email while investigating Clinton reeks of a double standard.
“It’s just so transparently hypocritical to have one standard for a person you are investigating and an entirely different standard for yourself when you are the one who’s enforcing the law,” Rosenberg said.
The inspector general at Justice previously slammed Comey for using his personal account for FBI business, saying it was “inconsistent” with government policy. But Comey claimed his private email use was “incidental” and only used for word processing a “public speech or public email.” He said he wasn’t sending “anything remotely classified” on Gmail and that his use was “a totally different thing” from Clinton’s.
Experts told The Post there was a clear disconnect between what Comey said he was using his personal email for and what the Justice Department concluded he was doing after vetting his emails.
If the Justice Department accurately withheld his emails for the legal reasons cited, Comey would have been talking about substantive government business and active law enforcement matters.
“He can’t have it both ways,” Rosenberg said.
“Either he used his personal email for things that were public or would be in the public domain, or he used it to discuss internal policies, investigations, etc. that might or might not be appropriately withheld under FOIA.”
A rep for Comey said he had no comment.
The 156 email pages that were released mark the first wave from Justice, with more expected soon.
The emails obtained by The Post span from 2013 to 2017, and many are heavily redacted.
In the messages, Comey discusses speeches and public statements with his aides and other routine business. There are also emails about pressing concerns like a threat of a mass shooting at a Chicago school in May 2016, changes on his protective detail and helping two American teachers with their visa processes in December 2013.
The emails show that Comey used personal email throughout his investigation into Clinton and even talked about it.
He emailed Sept. 30, 2015, to his then-Chief of Staff James Rybicki, a Fox News article link about Russian hackers trying to access Clinton’s server.
“Need to be sure our colleagues across the street don’t think I actually said most of the stuff they attribute to me,” the email said.
On July 25, 2016, Comey apparently emailed Rybicki a link to a Lawfare article that asked what does the US government know about Russia and the DNC hack.
“I suspect there will be more of these kinds of stories,” Comey wrote. And two days before the 2016 presidential election, Comey emailed aides that he was trending on Facebook and shared a confrontation in public.
“Lady just passed me in a local restaurant and said ‘Go Hillary,’” Comey wrote Nov. 6, 2016. “I acted like a blind deer in the headlights and ignored her. When will this end?”
Rybicki told the inspector general that Comey deleted his private emails daily as a cyber-security precaution.
Comey maintained he always forwarded personal emails to FBI accounts for record-keeping purposes.
President Trump fired Comey in May 2017, saying at first that it was over his botched handling of the Clinton investigation.
Trump later told NBC News that he fired Comey because of the special counsel’s Russia probe.
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