Former FBI director James B. Comey enjoys higher public trust than President Trump, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, but there is one major area where Comey's honesty is sure to be questioned in a gantlet of interviews that begins Sunday with ABC's “20/20.”
In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in May, shortly before Comey's firing, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) probed Comey about leaks to the press:
GRASSLEY: Director Comey, have you ever been an anonymous source in news reports about matters relating to the Trump investigation or the [Hillary] Clinton investigation?
GRASSLEY: Question two, relatively related: Have you ever authorized someone else at the FBI to be an anonymous source in news reports about the Trump investigation or the Clinton investigation?
Comey's responses appear to be at least somewhat inconsistent with a statement that former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe issued last month after his own firing, which the Justice Department attributed in part to “an unauthorized disclosure to the news media.”
The disclosure, part of a Wall Street Journal report about FBI investigations into Clinton's family foundation and private email usage as secretary of state, occurred in October 2016 — seven months before Comey's exchange with Grassley. According to McCabe, the disclosure “was not a secret, it took place over several days, and others, including the director, were aware of the interaction with the reporter.”
Comey has some explaining to do.
He could dispute McCabe's claim or perhaps argue that being aware of an anonymous source is not the same as authorizing someone to be an anonymous source or being an anonymous source. McCabe did say that he was “one of only a few people who had the authority” to share information with the media, suggesting that he would not have needed Comey's permission.
There is room for Comey to contend that both he and McCabe told the truth, but his answers to Grassley's questions could still be regarded as less than forthcoming.
In any case, Comey's effort to square his testimony with McCabe's statement is something to watch for.
While watching, however, it is worth remembering that Trump and some of his media boosters have misrepresented the basis on which Comey's credibility might reasonably be questioned. On Friday, for example, the president tweeted that Comey “is a proven LEAKER & LIAR” who “leaked CLASSIFIED information” and “lied to Congress under OATH.”
Minutes later, “Fox & Friends” attempted to explain the tweet.
“Remember,” Steve Doocy told viewers, “it was during that congressional hearing when one of the senators asked, 'So, have you ever leaked anything to anybody?' And he said, 'Nope, I haven't done it.' And then it was revealed later that Mr. Comey had indeed leaked those memos that he took after the meetings with the president of the United States, Donald Trump, and he leaked them to his lawyer friend — professor up at Columbia — so he would put it in the New York Times. ... That's what [Trump] is referring to about the 'liar' business, and the 'leaker.' ”
Doocy did not have his facts straight. Comey did acknowledge orchestrating the leak of a personal memo to the Times, but the leak occurred after his firing and after his denials to Grassley. Comey's leak for a Times report published on May 16, does not prove that Comey lied in congressional testimony two weeks earlier, on May 3.
Also, Trump's charge that Comey leaked classified information lacks supporting evidence; the memo was not classified, and there are no known instances in which Comey supplied classified information to the press.
Trump took his attack too far, as he often does. Still, Comey will have to address his testimony and McCabe's account of media disclosure.