When former FBI Director James Comey first informed President-elect Donald Trump about the infamous pee dossier on January 7, 2017, he told the president that CNN had it but was looking for a “news hook” — or compelling reason to report on it.
That conversation was conveniently the “news hook” that CNN was looking for.
Just three days after Comey’s conversation with Trump, CNN published their story: “Intel chiefs presented Trump with claims of Russian efforts to compromise him.” The lead reporter on the story was Evan Perez, friend of the founder of Fusion GPS, the firm paid by the Clinton campaign to produce the dossier.
It is not clear if Comey knew his conversation would become the “news hook” CNN was looking for, but the exchange raises questions as to whether CNN had worked with Comey — or those who knew about Comey’s briefing — to get word of the dossier out.
According to Comey’s memo of the January 7, 2017, conversation, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had asked him to brief the president on the dossier.
Shortly after CNN published their story, BuzzFeed published the dossier in full — which has plagued the president since the beginning of his administration.
The numerous reports also led to Comey publicly confirming during a congressional hearing in March 2017 that there was an FBI investigation into the Trump campaign — even though he had repeatedly refused to publicly acknowledge that Trump was not under investigation despite telling the president so several times in private investigations.
The initial January 7 conversation between Comey and Trump which became the “news hook” was revealed in memos that the former FBI director had created to document that and other conversations he had with the president.
The Justice Department — after months of stalling — finally delivered those memos to Congress on Thursday after House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) was planning to subpoena them.
Clapper has been accused as the leaker to CNN of the briefing, according to investigative journalist Sara Carter.
Earlier this year, the House Intelligence Committee released the findings of their investigation, which noted: “Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, now a CNN national security analyst, provided inconsistent testimony to the Committee about his contacts with the media, including CNN.”
Clapper issued a statement a day after CNN’s story was published, saying he was “dismayed” by the leak.
Comey’s seven memos also belie some of his media accounts of interactions with the president. He has recalled having dinner with the president, where he talked about being nervous. However, his memo recollecting the dinner said, “I felt comfortable throughout, although never relaxed, given the focus conversation required.”
He also casually chatted with the president, even sharing his personal opinion that former Attorney General Eric Holder was “smarter and more sophisticated and smoother than” former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and that former President Obama and Holder being close was a “mistake” that presidents make “over and over again.” Trump even shared with him that he had “serious reservations” about his former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn.
The memos also document how concerned Trump was about the accusation that he had paid prostitutes to urinate on a hotel bed and that he worried his wife would think it was true. He had even asked Comey whether he should investigate the accusation, but Comey said he advised him that it would look bad.
He also discussed with the president why former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was not charged with “gross negligence” for mishandling classified information on her private server, but did not tell Trump — according to the memo — that he had originally drafted a memo that contained those words, which were later watered down to “extremely careless.”
The memos also revealed how concerned the president was that the idea that he was under investigation — even though Comey had told him he was not — was creating a cloud over his presidency and that he wanted Comey to make it clear that he was not personally under investigation.
“I told him I would see what we could do and that we would do the work well and as quickly as we could,” Comey said. However, he refused to make it clear that Trump was not being personally investigated during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in May 2017. He was fired shortly after.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC), and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) issued a statement Thursday evening hailing the release of the memos.
“We have long argued former Director Comey’s self-styled memos should be in the public domain, subject to any classification redactions. These memos are significant for both what is in them and what is not,” they said in the statement.
“Former Director Comey’s memos show the President made clear he wanted allegations of collusion, coordination, and conspiracy between his campaign and Russia fully investigated. The memos also made clear the ‘cloud’ President Trump wanted lifted was not the Russian interference in the 2016 election cloud, rather it was the salacious, unsubstantiated allegations related to personal conduct leveled in the dossier,” they said.
They added: “The memos also show former Director Comey never wrote that he felt obstructed or threatened. While former Director Comey went to great lengths to set dining room scenes, discuss height requirements, describe the multiple times he felt complimented, and myriad other extraneous facts, he never once mentioned the most relevant fact of all, which was whether he felt obstructed in his investigation.”
The memos also make certain what has become increasingly clear of late: former Director Comey has at least two different standards in his interactions with others. He chose not to memorialize conversations with President Obama, Attorney General Lynch, Secretary Clinton, Andrew McCabe or others, but he immediately began to memorialize conversations with President Trump. It is significant former Director Comey made no effort to memorialize conversations with former Attorney General Lynch despite concerns apparently significant enough to warrant his unprecedented appropriation of the charging decision away from her and the Department of Justice in July of 2016.
The lawmakers noted that Comey leaked his memos to his friend, Professor Dan Richman, for the purpose of prompting the special counsel, even though his concerns about Lynch’s impartiality did not prompt one.
“As we have consistently said, rather than making a criminal case for obstruction or interference with an ongoing investigation, these memos would be Defense Exhibit A should such a charge be made,” they said.
Read the memos: