Wednesday, March 20, 2019 | ePaper

Leak crackdown talk yields rare Comey, Trump agreement

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FBI Director James Comey's declassified memos documenting conversations and interactions with President Trump.

AP, Washington :
James Comey and President Donald Trump seem to disagree on most everything, but the ex-FBI director's memos show consensus on at least one thing: the need to hunt down leakers.
The two men bonded over the idea of a proposed leak crackdown, even sharing a chuckle over a crude joke involving jailed journalists, according to memos written by Comey and obtained by The Associated Press.
The jocularity over leakers and journalists is striking given the otherwise tense nature of their conversations, which touched on loyalty pledges, Russian prostitutes and open FBI investigations. The memos kept by Comey show his unease with Trump's requests and his concern that the president was blurring the bright line between politics and law enforcement, including with a request that he end an investigation into former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.
A sign of the ongoing tension between the two was a Friday night tweet from Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in south Florida which appears to be aimed at undermining Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation by suggesting it was prompted by "illegally leaked" memos. Trump tweeted that Comey "illegally leaked classified documents to the press in order to generate a Special Council?"
Trump said that, "Therefore, the Special Council was established based on an illegal act?" adding: "Really, does everybody know what that means?"
Trump was referring to the memos Comey wrote documenting his conversations with Trump before he was fired. Comey asked a friend to release them to the press. Comey has said he hoped the memos' release would lead to the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Russian election meddling and potential coordination with Trump's campaign. The memos, which were obtained this week by the AP, were unclassified, though some portions were blacked out as classified.
Yet Trump and Comey were clearly on the same page about leaks, even if they weren't quite in agreement on whom to hold accountable for them.
Comey recounts an Oval Office conversation from February 2017 in which Trump raises the prospect of jailing journalists who benefit from leaked information. According to the memos, Comey told Trump it would be tricky legally to jail reporters but said he saw value in going after leakers and "putting a head on a pike as a message" by bringing such a case.
Trump shot back that sending that message may involve jailing reporters.
"They spend a couple days in jail, make a new friend, and they are ready to talk," Trump says in one memo. Comey laughed as he walked out of the room, according to the memo.
The Trump administration has loudly complained about leaks, and Trump himself has repeatedly accused Comey of being a leaker. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said there are several dozen leak investigations open, though that aggressiveness is similar to that of the Obama Justice Department, which was frequently criticized by media organizations and free press advocates.
Comey's memos had been eagerly anticipated since their existence was first revealed last year, especially since Comey's interactions with Trump are a critical part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into whether the president sought to obstruct justice.

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