Former FBI Director James Comey claims he was disturbed by a purported conversation among then President-Elect Trump’s transition team about how to publicly “position” the intelligence community’s information that Russia may have attempted to interfere in the 2016 election.
In an exclusive interview with ABC News ahead of the release of his memoir on Tuesday, Comey lectured that “the reason that was so striking to me [is] that’s just not done.” He was referring to the alleged conversation about how to frame the Russian interference claims. “That the intelligence community does intelligence, the White House does PR and spin,” Comey continued.
Yet that same Comey reportedly pitched the Obama White House the idea of first going public with the Russian interference claims by writing an oped in the New York Times instead of issuing an announcement by multiple intelligence agencies.
According to reports, Comey even had a draft of the oped present at a meeting with senior Obama administration officials. The idea was reportedly shot down by other officials, who argued that the announcement of alleged Russian inference should come in the form of an official message backed by intelligence agencies.
Speaking to ABC News’ chief anchor George Stephanopoulos, Comey recalled a Jan. 6, 2017 meeting at Trump Tower where he briefed the president-elect on the allegations that the Russians interfered in the presidential election.
Comey says the conversation turned to concern that the allegations could undermine Trump’s victory.
“President-elect Trump’s first question was to confirm that it had no impact on the election … and then the conversation, to my surprise, moved into a PR conversation about how the Trump team would position this, and what they could say about this, with us still sitting there,” Comey said in the interview. “And the reason that was so striking to me [is] that’s just not done. That the intelligence community does intelligence, the White House does PR and spin.”
Rewind to the summer of 2016, prior to the October 7, 2016 joint statement by the Department Of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence first officially alleging Russian interference in the presidential race.
Newsweek cited “two sources with knowledge of the matter” describing a meeting at which Comey pitched the highly unusual idea of the government going public with the Russia claims in a New York Times oped.
Well before the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) accused the Russian government of tampering with the U.S. election in an October 7 statement, Comey pitched the idea of writing an op-ed about the Russian campaign during a meeting in the White House Situation Room in June or July.
“He had a draft of it or an outline. He held up a piece of paper in a meeting and said, ‘I want to go forward. What do people think of this?’” says a source with knowledge of the meeting, which included Secretary of State John Kerry, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and National Security Adviser Susan Rice.
But many in the room didn’t like the idea, and White House officials thought the announcement should be a coordinated message backed by multiple agencies, the source says. “An op-ed doesn’t have the same stature. It comes from one person.”
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.
Joshua Klein contributed research to this article.