It was one of the most revealing moments of former FBI director James B. Comey’s dramatic testimony Thursday: the admission that he asked a “close friend” to share with a reporter the content of a memo documenting a conversation with President Trump.
Comey said he did this in the hopes that it would help prompt the appointment of a special counsel. He elaborated that the friend was a professor at Columbia Law School — but did not give his name.
The nameless professor suddenly became the center of an Internet frenzy, with curious reporters and citizens alike scrambling to identify the man.
“Hmmmmm who’s the Columbia Law professor??” one reporter tweeted.
“Every columbia law professor can now pretend they were the leaker to their students,” a Time magazine politics editor tweeted.
As they searched, scores of people flocked to the most obvious starting point: Columbia Law School’s website. And within minutes, the website crashed, Columbia Law School alerted on Twitter.
Columbia Law's site is down at the moment. We are working on a solution. Stay tuned.
— Columbia Law School (@ColumbiaLaw) June 8, 2017
— Ryan Parker (@TheRyanParker) June 8, 2017
A professor at Columbia law school's phone right now pic.twitter.com/SNC4Cm5ax5
— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) June 8, 2017
Aaaand the Columbia Law School faculty page gets more activity in 5 seconds than probably in its entire previous existence
— TrønBøt (@astron3000) June 8, 2017
But it did not take long for many to guess the identity of Comey’s confidant. Some of those who were able to reach the Columbia faculty page came across the biography of law professor Daniel Richman, which states he currently serves as an adviser to Comey.
Comey’s “good friend at Columbia Law School” I predict Daniel Richman's phone is ringing nonstop now. pic.twitter.com/pC9hFgTMVX
— Brandon Gomez (@bgomez592) June 8, 2017
Only in Washington: Someone nursing a pint of beer shouts out to a crowded bar: "Daniel Richman of Columbia" https://t.co/hNXVbfBe8r
— Alexander Panetta (@Alex_Panetta) June 8, 2017
Daniel Richman is the most famous law professor in the country today https://t.co/EYyn7LewZR
— Chris Cillizza (@CillizzaCNN) June 8, 2017
Richman, who worked with Comey as a federal prosecutor in Manhattan, soon confirmed to The Washington Post and other news outlets that he was indeed the professor who assisted the former FBI director in disclosing the information to a New York Times reporter.
Richman’s biography says he served as chief appellate attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and has consulted both the Justice and Treasury departments.
“Richman’s scholarly writings include more than 30 law review articles,” his bio states. He has testified in “state, federal, and international criminal and civil matters.”
The professor not only serves as a confidant for Comey, but for many of his students and colleagues, according to a 2015 article on the Columbia Law School’s website announcing Richman as a recipient of Columbia University’s Presidential Awards for Excellence in Teaching.
Students described Richman as a trusted mentor and “sounding board.”
His friendship with Comey extends back at least 30 years, Richman told NBC News in October of last year. And Richman has frequently defended Comey in news articles, particularly in stories about Comey’s decision to tell the public the bureau was reopening its investigation into presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“Jim sees his role as apolitical and independent,” Richman told the New York Times in an April story about how Comey tried to unsuccessfully keep the bureau out of politics during the election. “The F.B.I. director, even as he reports to the attorney general, often has to stand apart from his boss.”
Richman was described in a New Yorker piece last month as Comey’s “unofficial media surrogate.”
“He certainly does love the idea of being a protector of the Constitution,” Richman told the New Yorker of Comey. “The idea of doing messy stuff and taking your lumps in the press.”
But, Richman added, “More than most people, he thinks that when it comes to making really difficult decisions, transparency and accountability have incredible value.”
Richman declined to comment further to The Post on Thursday, but spoke to the Chronicle of Higher Education about a tangential topic: What will Comey do next?
Comey previously held a senior research post at Columbia for a short time in 2013 — a move encouraged by Richman, according to the New York Times.
Speaking to Chronicle of Higher Education, Richman said Comey has spoken to his classes on multiple occasions and is a “gifted teacher.” Perhaps, Richman suggested, Comey’s next job could be teaching at Columbia.
“He knows he’s welcome to join us next year,” Richman told the Chronicle of Higher Education.