Claims that James Comey broke the law when he leaked a personal memo he wrote after meeting with President Donald Trump are laughable, a friend and confidant of the fired FBI director said Friday.
"The real issue is whether the president has a reasonable expectation of confidentiality when he fires somebody and then lies about the circumstances in which he did that, and that strikes me as a matter in which to ask that question is also to answer it," Benjamin Wittes, editor in chief of the Lawfare blog and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Yahoo News. "The proper answer to [Trump lawyer Marc] Kasowitz's complaint is laughter."
Comey on Thursday testified that he gave a copy of his memo to a friend, later identified as Columbia Law School professor Daniel Richman, to leak to The New York Times in hopes of a special counsel stepping in to investigation Russian collusion and interference with the 2016 election.
"Any complaint on what Jim testified yesterday, in my opinion, would be frivolous for the following reason," Wittes told Yahoo News Deputy Editor Daniel Klaidman. "First of all, Comey was very clear that the memo that he wrote was intentionally written in unclassified form so that it would not be bound up in classification rules. So if the claim is that he's admitted to leaking classified information, that's simply factually false."
Trump supporters, including Kasowitz, want an investigation into the leaked memo, and Trump slammed Comey on Twitter for releasing the document.
"Comey's description of the document is that it was a personal sort of memo to file," said Wittes. "There is no general law that says you are bound to protect unclassified material, so the real question here is not legal — and by the way, executive privilege assumes that there is some proceeding in which somebody is trying to compel you to produce something. It's not about whether you as an individual are entitled to disclose your own notes of a conversation voluntarily, that's just not what it's about."
"There's nothing, in my opinion, unethical, let alone illegal or inappropriate about what Jim reported that he and Dan [Richman] did," Wittes also said.
However, Wittes said he does not know why Comey didn't leak the memo through a phone call to the press himself, but said the former FBI director may have decided to rely on a friend at a time when he was busy. In addition, he speculated, Comey might not have wanted to speak with a reporter so soon after he was fired.
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