WASHINGTON – Justice Department officials have declined to prosecute former FBI Director James Comey for mishandling classified information, including leaking a memo to the media about his interactions with President Donald Trump, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
The decision was made after the department’s independent inspector general referred Comey for possible prosecution, the person said.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz has been conducting a broad review into decisions and actions by Comey and other Justice Department officials in the early stages of the investigation into whether Trump conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election or obstructed justice.
It appears that Horowitz’s review into Comey’s handling of classified information was spun off as a separate matter and his report on that topic could be completed within weeks.
The decision not to prosecute Comey, which was reported earlier by the Hill, may anger Trump, who has railed against the former FBI director and others for investigating him. Trump’s reaction could pose one of the first major political challenges for Attorney General William Barr if Trump leans on the Justice Department to reverse course and carry out a prosecution.
Trump fired Comey in May 2017, after the FBI chief refused to say publicly that the president wasn’t under investigation. After being ousted, Comey took home memos he wrote memorializing interactions he had with Trump. Comey also authorized a friend to leak the contents of at least one memo to the media. The FBI retroactively classified some material in the memos.
Comey’s lawyer, Patrick Fitzgerald, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump suggested in May that law enforcement and intelligence officials who conducted the early inquiry into his presidential campaign should be charged with treason and imprisoned.
“My Campaign for President was conclusively spied on,” Trump said in a May 17 tweet. “Nothing like this has ever happened in American Politics. A really bad situation. TREASON means long jail sentences, and this was TREASON!”
Comey is expected to be criticized by the inspector general over how he handled his memos. But the review’s conclusions and findings are in flux as Comey and his lawyers provide their input to the review team, according to another person familiar with the matter.
Comey said at a congressional hearing that one reason he decided to leak his memo’s contents was to spur the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Trump. That happened on May 17, 2017, when former FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed to the position.
Mueller submitted his final report in April. He concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Trump for conspiring with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. But he said there was substantial evidence that Trump obstructed justice, and that he couldn’t exonerate the president in that regard.