- The Daily Caller News Foundation and Judicial Watch filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday
- The lawsuit is seeking records related to meetings between former FBI Director James Comey and former President Barack Obama
- Comey’s statements regarding times he met with the president conflict with other statements and records
The Daily Caller News Foundation and the watchdog group Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday seeking records to determine the actual number of times and reasons former FBI Director James Comey met with then-President Barack Obama.
The request by the two organizations was filed because the former FBI director claimed he rarely met with Obama, and he was an independent and nonpartisan leader of the nation’s top law enforcement agency. The parties filed the lawsuit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Comey’s impartiality about his relationship with Obama was sharply called into question by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary when its chairman, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, uncovered a private, undisclosed meeting Comey held with Obama on Jan. 5, 2017, two weeks before Trump’s inauguration.
TheDCNF requested, “records that identify and describe all meetings between former FBI Director James Comey and President Barack Obama,” in its Freedom of Information Act request before the FBI, which it filed Feb. 19.
On May 22, the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch sought records for a broader set of Comey meetings including Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and top political figures. Its request included records “written or ordered written by FBI Director James Comey summarizing his conversations with any of the following individuals: Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Senator Chuck Schumer, Representative Nancy Pelosi, and Senator John McCain.” Their timeframe for its request was between Sept. 4, 2013, and May 9, 2017.
Comey has carefully parsed his words about his interactions with Obama. In his June 8, 2017, testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he suggested his firsthand meetings with the Democratic president were rare. He claimed he only spoke with Obama twice, once in 2015 and another “to say goodbye in late 2016,” according to the former FBI director’s testimony.
“As FBI director, I interacted with President Obama. I spoke only twice in three years,” he said. “I spoke alone with President Obama twice in person (and never on the phone) – once in 2015 to discuss law enforcement policy issues and a second time, briefly, for him to say goodbye in late 2016,” Comey’s opening statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee read.
Grassley along with South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is a Judiciary subcommittee chairman, discovered through the National Archives that Obama met with Comey on Jan. 5, 2017, two weeks before Trump’s inauguration.
Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, recorded the meeting in an email around 12 p.m on Inauguration Day. She addressed the email to herself.
“President Obama had a brief follow-on conversation with FBI Director Comey and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in the Oval Office,” Rice stated.
In a Feb. 8, 2017, letter to Rice, Grassley and Graham wrote, “It strikes us as odd that, among your activities in the final moments on the final day of the Obama administration, you would feel the need to send yourself such an unusual email purporting to document a conversation involving President Obama and his interactions with the FBI regarding the Trump/Russia investigation.”
Biden and Yates joined Rice and Obama in the meeting.
By failing to inform the Congress about the Jan. 5 meeting, Comey may have deliberately misled Congress about his interactions with the former president.
Comey has carefully groomed his image as a nonpolitical arbiter, but his reputation for fairness came under heated attack during the 2016 presidential election when he recommended no charges against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server for official government business, in a July 5, 2016, press conference. Comey called it “extremely careless” but not a crime. He later infuriated Democrats when he reopened the investigation 11 days before the election.
Comey also wrote the public statement exonerating Clinton in May 2016, well before the FBI ended its investigation, causing an uproar in Congress. FBI Agent Peter Strzok, who edited the early drafts of Comey’s July speech, replaced the original phrase “grossly negligent” — a term that has criminal implications — with the phrase “extremely careless,” which is not a violation of the law.
Strzok later joined special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Mueller removed from him from the team after uncovering texts that showed he and FBI attorney Lisa Page carried on an extramarital affair, held viciously anti-Trump attitudes and favored Clinton.
Moreover, Comey permitted Cheryl Mills, a long-time Clinton confidant who herself was a witness or subject of the FBI email investigation, to sit in on the FBI’s formal interview of the presidential candidate.
Comey also agreed with Strzok’s recommendation not to charge Mills and Clinton aide Huma Abedin with providing false statements under oath to FBI agents. The two claimed they did not know Clinton was using a private server while she was secretary of state but emails later showed they were aware of Clinton’s arrangement.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recommended Trump fire Comey for usurping the role normally left to prosecutors at the Department of Justice, in a July 5 press conference. He accused Comey of attempting to “usurp the attorney general’s authority” by publicly announcing why the FBI’s case should be closed.
“Compounding the error, the director ignored another longstanding principle: We do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation,” Rosenstein argued in his memo.
“We should reject the departure and return to the traditions (of the bureau),” Rosenstein wrote. “The way the director handled the conclusion of the email investigation was wrong. As a result, the FBI is unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them.”
“It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission,” Trump told Comey in a letter firing him.
The FBI has not produced any records of Comey’s meetings, well beyond the 20-day deadline for FOIA responses. Both groups are asking the court to produce the records by a certain date and enjoin the FBI from “continuing to withhold any and all non-exempt records responsive to Plaintiffs’ FOIA requests.”
In filing the lawsuit, Neil Patel, TheDCNF co-founder and president said, “The growing evidence of a ‘protect our own’ mindset at DOJ is beyond troubling. That’s not how America is supposed to work. The information we have requested is fully in line with the terms of the freedom of information statute, and we are thankful that Judicial Watch is helping us force the release of these basic facts.”
Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton said, “Judicial Watch and The Daily Caller News Foundation are being stonewalled on key documents that could break open this scandal, which is why we are now in federal court to try to get the truth and accountability.”
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