Senior Justice Department officials have concluded that former FBI director James B. Comey should not be charged in connection with his handling of memos documenting conversations with President Trump, according to people familiar with the matter.
The determination comes amid ongoing internal reviews focused on federal authorities’ investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the Trump campaign. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who is conducting one of the reviews, is unlikely to produce a final report on that subject for at least a month, but one aspect of his work is largely complete, these people say: Comey’s handling of the memos.
Deciding not to charge the former FBI director, who has become an outspoken critic of President Trump since Trump fired him in May 2017, was “not a close call,” said a person who was not authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
A lawyer for Comey declined to comment, as did a spokesman for the inspector general’s office.
The Hill first reported the development.
Comey kept the memos in his home and later told an associate to share some of the contents with a journalist.
One was written in February 2017 after a private White House meeting with Trump in which Comey said the president mentioned the FBI investigation of former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn and said he hoped Comey could “let this go.”
Another described a phone call the president made to Comey on March 30, 2017, in which Trump complained about the Russia investigation and, according to Comey, asked what the FBI director could do to “lift the cloud” hanging over his administration.
FBI agents collected the memos from Comey’s home in June 2017. A day later, he appeared before Congress and told lawmakers that he had asked a friend to share the contents of one memo with a journalist, hoping that the information would spur the appointment of a special counsel to continue the Russia investigation.
After an FBI review, some material in two of the memos was determined to be confidential — the lowest level of classification. That raised questions about whether the information had been properly handled.
Since firing Comey, Trump has repeatedly accused the former director of lying and leaking. The president’s allies have eagerly awaited the inspector general’s report, insisting that it would vindicate Trump’s claims that the Russia investigation was a witch hunt.
After Comey was fired and details from one of his memos became public, the Justice Department tapped Robert S. Mueller III, Comey’s predecessor as FBI director, to serve as special counsel. Mueller’s investigation ended earlier this year, and he submitted a 448-page report that did not charge a conspiracy between Russia and Trump’s aides. The report also pointedly said the findings could not exonerate the president of obstruction of justice.
Current and former law enforcement officials have said that the Russia investigation was premised on alarming claims of wrongdoing, and that they would have been negligent if they did not investigate those allegations.
Central to the inspector general’s review is how law enforcement officials obtained court approval to conduct electronic surveillance in late 2016 on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser. That surveillance was based on the FBI’s suspicions that Page could be an agent of the Russian government. Page, who was never charged with a crime, has denied the accusation and accused the FBI of politically motivated surveillance that violated his civil liberties.
Last year, the inspector general issued a long report criticizing Comey’s handling of a 2016 investigation of then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.