James Comey asserted in his extraordinary testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee that the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is authorized to override Justice Department oversight procedures, a questionable claim which if true would raise serious questions about long-standing rules aimed at preventing abuses by federal law enforcement officials.
The former head of the FBI told the Senate panel that he believed he had received a direction from the president in February that the FBI end its investigation of Michael Flynn’s alleged involvement with Russia–a direction with which he and his kitchen-cabinet of “FBI senior leadership” unilaterally decided not to comply. The Comey cabinet then decided that it would not report the receipt of this direction to Attorney General Jeff Sessions or any other Justice Department superior.
The group decided that it could override standard FBI protocol and possibly legal obligations to report the incident because of its expectations that Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia matter, although that recusal would not come until weeks later. The Comey cabinet also decided that it wasn’t obligated to approach the acting Deputy Attorney General because he would likely be replaced soon.
“We concluded it made little sense to report it to Attorney General Sessions, who we expected would likely recuse himself from involvement in Russia-related investigations. (He did so two weeks later.) The Deputy Attorney General’s role was then filled in an acting capacity by a United States Attorney, who would also not be long in the role,” Comey said. “After discussing the matter, we decided to keep it very closely held, resolving to figure out what to do with it down the road as our investigation progressed.”
According to three different former federal law enforcement officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, there is no precedent for the director of the FBI to refuse to inform a Deputy Attorney General of a matter because of his or her “acting” status nor to use the expectation of a recusal as a basis for withholding information.
“This is an extraordinary usurpation of power. Not something you’d expect from the supposedly by-the-books guys at the top of the FBI,” one of those officials told Breitbart News. The closest precedent to the Comey cabinet’s decision to conceal information from Justice Department superiors is likely Comey’s widely criticized earlier decision to go public about the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails. That decision received a sharp rebuke in the May 9 memo by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that formed the basis for Comey’s firing by Trump.
Rosenstein criticized Comey’s decision to act without consultation from the Department of Justice as usurping the Attorney General’s authority and an attempt to “supplant federal prosecutors and assume command of the Justice Department. Comey had violated a “well-established process” for how to deal with situations where to Attorney General faces a conflict of interest, according to Rosenstein. “The Director was wrong to usurp the Attorney General’s authority on July 5, 2016,” Rosenstein wrote. “The Director now defends his decision by asserting that he believed attorney General Loretta Lynch had a conflict. But the FBI Director is never empowered to supplant federal prosecutors and assume command of the Justice Department. There is a well-established process for other officials to step in when a conflict requires the recusal of the Attorney General. On July 5, however, the Director announced his own conclusions about the nation’s most sensitive criminal investigation, without the authorization of duly appointed Justice Department leaders.”
Comey’s testimony on Thursday seemed to double-down on this defense, which amounts to a claim that the FBI’s top agents can act outside of the ordinary processes intended to establish oversight and accountability at the nation’s top law enforcement agency. The FBI’s adherence to Department of Justice guidelines and instructions from Attorneys General has been a centerpiece of its ongoing independence, often cited by officials as a reason why the FBI does not need a general legislative charter that would restrict or control by statute its authority. Comey’s assertion that the FBI can override standard protocols could endanger that independence, according to a former high-ranking federal law enforcement official.
Former FBI director James Comey’s testimony that provoked conflicting reactions on Capitol Hill similarly sparked diverse responses from two former high-ranking FBI agents contacted by Breitbart News. “I don’t think Comey did much to help himself,” James Kallstrom, a former assistant director of the FBI, told Breitbart News. “He showed clearly why he was not fit to be the FBI director in my view.” Comey’s admission that he surreptitiously took notes of a private meeting with the president and then leaked the contents to the press through a third party irked the FBI’s former assistant director. “This nonsense about his conversations with the president and feeling necessary to write down notes,” Kallstrom pointed out. “He didn’t write a memo when the attorney general met with President Clinton on an airplane in Arizona. He didn’t write a memo when the FBI was told to not investigate (or on their own refrained from investigating) the IRS, which was violating the rights of Americans by the thousands…. What did Comey do when he was told to shut down the investigation of the Clinton Foundation? Did he write a memo then?”
The president called the former director a “grandstander,” among other unflattering terms. Trump fired Comey on May 9, citing low morale within the bureau, the director’s mishandling of the Clinton email investigation, and his zeal in investigating the administration’s ties to Russia that the president regards as a red herring. Comey cites the Russia investigation as the alpha and omega explaining his dismissal. He noted that interference in the 2016 election did not mark a first for Russia and predicted that further intrusions would follow. “The president demanded ‘loyalty,’” Maxwell explained. “How ironic is it that Jim Comey is perhaps one of the most loyal and faithful public servants our government has had in the modern era, but loyal to the things that count among all of the law enforcement profession—the rule of law and our country”?