The White House is ramping up its attacks on former FBI Director James Comey, suggesting — in an extraordinary departure from standard protocol — that the Justice Department should consider prosecuting his conduct. For the second day in a row, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested during a White House briefing that Comey broke the law when he asked a friend to provide the press with the contents of unclassified memos he’d written about his conversations with President Donald Trump.
Trump fired Comey in May. The suggestions mark a highly unusual departure, even in a White House that prides itself in bucking conventions. It is extraordinary for a White House official to suggest the FBI or Justice Department – which is meant to function outside of political sway or influence – investigate anyone, let alone a fired FBI director.
Though White House and Justice Department officials coordinate on policy matters, actual investigations are supposed to be conducted without White House input or guidance. Sanders, reading from prepared remarks Wednesday, said Comey’s memos had been created on an FBI computer while he was the director, and were thus official FBI documents.
“Leaking FBI memos on a sensitive case regardless of classification violates federal laws including the privacy act, standard FBI employment agreement and nondisclosure agreement that all personnel must sign,” she said, adding, “I think that’s pretty clean and clear that that would be a violation.” As for what should happen to Comey, she said, “I’m certainly not an attorney but I think that the facts of the case are very clear.”
On Tuesday, Sanders said Comey’s actions “were improper, and likely could have been illegal.” Asked whether the president would encourage the Justice Department to prosecute Comey, she said, “That’s the job of the Department of Justice, and something they should certainly look at.”
The Justice Department declined to comment. The ramped-up attacks appeared aimed at justifying Comey’s firing and came after Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon called Trump’s decision to fire Comey the worst in “modern political history.”
Comey’s firing prompted a chain of events that eventually led to the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and potential collusion with Trump campaign aides. The president’s private attorney, Jay Sekulow?, also struck on the theme during his radio show Wednesday. “James Comey: Get a Lawyer,” a promotion for the episode reads.
Matt Miller, the spokesman for former attorney general Eric Holder, tweeted that Holder “would’ve been on phone immediately telling the WH to cut this crap out” and that other attorneys general would have as well.