An inspector general’s report released Thursday says that witnesses told Justice Department investigators that FBI officials wanted to use a briefing that James Comey provided President Donald Trump in early 2017 about sex allegations made in the Steele dossier to collect information that might be of use in the Russia probe.
The witness statements, which are laid out in a scathing 83-page report on Comey, would seem to undercut the former FBI director’s claims about the purpose of the briefing, which was held at Trump Tower on Jan. 6, 2017.
Comey has long asserted that he had a one-on-one meeting with Trump in order to give the then-president-elect a heads up about salacious rumors contained in the dossier, which former British spy Christopher Steele compiled while on the payroll of the DNC and Clinton campaign.
“It was brought up privately, because the goal of the private session was to alert the incoming President to this piece of it that we thought was about to become public,” Comey told Republican Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan in a Dec. 17, 2018 interview.
Comey and the heads of three other intelligence community agencies, including then-CIA Director John Brennan and then-national intelligence director James Clapper, gave an initial briefing to Trump about the findings of an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. Comey agreed to have a private meeting with Trump afterwards to share the information from the dossier.
But the Justice Department Office of the Inspector general’s (OIG) report suggests that Comey and the FBI saw other opportunities in the briefing.
The FBI’s Russia team held a meeting prior to the briefing to strategize about what information could be gathered, the OIG report says.
Comey also treated information that he wrote in a memo after the meeting with Trump the same as if it were derived during surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Lisa Page, a top FBI attorney who worked on the Russia probe, also told the OIG that Comey asked that a memo he wrote after his briefing to Trump should be included in the Russia investigation case file because it was “central to investigative activity.”
The OIG report focused mainly on Comey’s handling of seven memos he wrote after his meetings with Trump. The briefing itself was not a focus of the OIG probe, though it could play more prominently in another report that the OIG is working on regarding the FBI’s surveillance activities against the Trump campaign.
The OIG said in its report that Comey violated FBI policy by sharing four of the memos with a friend and two of his attorneys after he was fired from the FBI on May 9, 2017.
Comey’s briefing to Trump set off a chain of events that paved the way for the publication of Steele’s dossier.
On Jan. 10, 2017, CNN reported that Comey’s briefing occurred, and that Trump had been told about salacious allegations later attributed to the dossier. Hours after CNN published that report, BuzzFeed published the dossier in full.
The document landed like a bombshell. Steele’s allegations, though unverified at the time BuzzFeed published the document, created suspicions that Trump was being blackmailed by Russia, and that members of his campaign conspired directly with the Kremlin.
The special counsel’s investigation all but debunked Steele’s allegation that the Trump campaign was involved in a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation.” Steele also wrote that Russian operatives were blackmailing Trump with video of him with prostitutes in Moscow in 2013.
Trump’s allies have alleged that Comey and other intelligence community officials set the series of events leading up to the Comey-Trump briefing in order to force the dossier into the public domain. Trump himself has said that he believed Comey’s briefing was meant to intimidate him.
The OIG report says that FBI officials James Baker and Andrew McCabe shared a similar view. Both were concerned that Trump might see the briefing as a “Hoover-esque type of plot,” says the report, referring to J. Edgar Hoover, the former FBI director known for weaponizing blackmail material against political enemies.
According to the OIG report, witnesses told investigators that FBI officials had discussions about “Trump’s potential responses to being told about the ‘salacious’ information.” The officials believed “Trump might make statements about, or provide information of value to, the pending Russian interference investigation.”
FBI executives also agreed prior to the briefing that Comey should write a memo in order to record the “salient details of those conversations.”
Rep. Jordan, a close ally of Trump’s, told the Daily Caller News Foundation that the new details support his longstanding theory that Comey “was out to get the president.”
“What was supposed to be a defensive briefing was anything but,” said Jordan, adding that the briefing appears to have been an attempt “to trap the president in an attempt to help their investigation.”
Lisa Page, who served as counsel to McCabe, told the office of the inspector general that Comey met with the FBI team leading the Russia probe after his initial meeting with Trump.
She said that Comey briefed the team on the discussions, and shared the memo so that it could be added to the FBI case file. She said that Comey wanted the file included because it was “central to investigative activity.”
Comey also treated the information in the memo the same way as information obtained through surveillance through FISA.
Comey told the OIG that he believed the memo “ought to be treated…[like] FISA derived information or information in a [counterintelligence] investigation.”
The FBI and other government agencies use FISA in order to secretly collect foreign intelligence information for counterintelligence investigations. The FBI relied heavily on the Steele dossier in applications for four FISAs against Carter Page, a former Trump campaign aide.
A lawyer for Comey did not respond to a request for comment for this article. Comey commented on Twitter about the main findings of the report, asserting that he is owed an apology from people who accused him of leaking classified information. Though Comey provided memos that contained classified information to his personal lawyers, the report said that he did not leak classified materials to the media.