- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Department of Justice has ordered former FBI Director James B. Comey to preserve any government records in his possession, a watchdog group says.

The order covers such documents as memos he wrote for the record on his private meetings with President Trump and possibly with former President Barack Obama.

The Justice Department disclosed the Comey written notification last week to Judicial Watch, just as the conservative group was seeking a judge’s order to ensure all of the ex-director’s government documents were preserved and not destroyed.

Mr. Comey wrote memos on his laptop and also used a personal Gmail account for FBI business — a practice that the inspector general said violated Justice Department guidelines.

Judicial Watch is suing the Justice Department in U.S. District Court under the Freedom of Information Act. Teamed with the Daily Caller News Foundation, the two want Mr. Comey’s memos on his meetings with Mr. Obama, Mr. Trump and congressional leaders.

“It is incredible that it took Judicial Watch’s prodding of the FBI for it to ask Mr. Comey to return federal records — over a year after he was fired,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Mr. Comey continues to be protected by the FBI and DOJ. It is outrageous that the agencies oppose a simple preservation order to make sure no Comey records are lost or destroyed.”

Mr. Fitton told The Washington Times that Justice notified him on July 26 of an FBI letter sent to Mr. Comey, but wouldn’t provide a copy of the letter to Judicial Watch.

Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey in May 2017, resting his argument on how the FBI director unilaterally decided the Hillary Clinton email investigation in July 2016 without input from Justice lawyers, including the attorney general.

After the firing, Mr. Comey used a lawyer friend to leaked to The New York Times contemporaneous memos on his meetings with Mr. Trump. He recalls Mr. Trump urging him to end the investigation into former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who ultimately pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents.

Mr. Trump denies Mr. Comey’s account.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz, in his June report on the FBI’s Clinton probe, accused Mr. Comey of insubordination.

He also criticized Mr. Comey for conducting FBI business on his personal unsecured Gmail account.

Mr. Comey said in his IG interview that his unclassified FBI mail connection malfunctioned at home so he relied on Gmail or made notes on his laptop.

The IG asked Mr. Comey if he had reservations about putting FBI messages on personal systems.

Mr. Comey said he didn’t, stating: “Because it was incidental and I was always making sure that the work got forwarded to the government account to either my own account or [another official], so I wasn’t worried from a record-keeping perspective and it was, because there will always be a copy of it in the FBI system and I wasn’t doing classified work there, so I wasn’t concerned about that.”

The IG report said, “We asked Comey if the use of personal email in this manner was in accordance with FBI regulations. Comey replied, ‘I don’t know. I think so, but I don’t know.’”

Mr. Horowitz concluded that Mr. Comey did not follow Justice Department guidelines.

“We found that, given the absence of exigent circumstances and the frequency with which the use of personal email occurred, Comey’s use of a personal email account on multiple occasions for unclassified FBI business to be inconsistent with the DOJ Policy Statement,” the IG said.

Said Judicial Watch’s motion to the federal judge: “Considering the troubling finding by the OIG and because Plaintiffs do not know specifically what the FBI asked Comey to do and what, if any, steps Comey is taking to ensure preservation, Plaintiffs are concerned records responsive to Plaintiffs’ FOIA requests will be lost or destroyed.”

Mr. Comey has emerged, along with other Obama appointees, as a harsh Trump critic. He has urged the nation to vote for Democrats.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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