William Barr and Trump
Attorney General William Barr and the President. Credit: White House/Wikimedia Commons

On Thursday, the Justice Department released the report from Inspector General Michael Horowitz following his investigation of James Comey. Most of the reporting has focused on the former FBI director’s handling of the memos he wrote after meetings with Donald Trump.

The best analysis of that comes from Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare. He begins his analysis by stating that, “The inspector general of the Justice Department has determined that it is misconduct for a law enforcement officer to publicly disclose an effort to shut down his investigation.” That is because the crux of the issue is that, after Trump fired Comey, the former FBI director asked a friend, Dan Richman, to share the substance of one of his memos with New York Times in order to trigger the appointment of a special counsel. This is what Horowitz wrote in his report.

Comey placed in the public domain evidence relevant to the investigation of Flynn, and what he clearly viewed as evidence of an attempt to obstruct justice by President Trump. Rather than continuing to safeguard such evidence, Comey unilaterally and without authorization disclosed it to all.

In other words, after being fired for refusing to comply with the president’s wishes, Comey provided information to the press of evidence that Trump attempted to obstruct justice. Wittes concludes:

And there it is: the inspector general of the United States Department of Justice taking the position that a witness to gross misconduct by the president of the United States has a duty to keep his mouth shut about what he saw. Remember, after all, that Comey was a witness here as well as the former FBI director. That’s an extraordinary position for a law enforcement organization to take.

If Comey violated rules at the FBI, they obviously need to be adapted in order to accommodate extraordinary circumstances like the situation he faced.

It is, however, Byron York’s take on the inspector general’s report that will have longer-lasting implications. The very first memo Comey wrote came from the intelligence briefing conducted with the president-elect on January 6, 2017. You might remember that, on that day, intelligence officials briefed Trump about the status of the Trump-Russia investigation. Once that was completed, Comey met with the president-elect privately to provide a briefing on the Steele dossier. York focused on the portion of the IG report related to that encounter.

In York’s mind, the briefing on the Steele dossier was a set-up to determine if Trump would say anything incriminating about his interactions with Russia, as well as a prelude to ensuring that the dossier was leaked to the public. On the latter, he writes:

[T]he fact that the nation’s intelligence chiefs considered it so important that Comey would brief the president-elect made it newsworthy. And not long after CNN reported on the briefing, BuzzFeed published the entire Steele dossier.

York is always careful not to make direct accusations, but he’s doing everything short of that to connect the dots he has fabricated from the report. In the end, he accused Comey of engaging in a “Hoover-esque” gambit.

What York doesn’t want his readers to know is that the inspector general’s report also included this statement on page 17: “Prior to the January 6, 2017 briefing, the FBI learned that several media outlets also had this information, and were intending to publish it” (emphasis mine). The report goes on to note that, “Baker and McCabe said that they agreed that the briefing needed to be one-on-one, so that Comey could present the ‘salacious’ information in the most discreet and least embarrassing way.”

In other words, the reason intelligence officials decided to brief Trump about the dossier is that they knew that it was about to be published and they wanted to give him a heads-up in “the most discreet and least embarrassing way.” But somehow that is all being twisted into a nefarious plot designed to damage the president-elect.

The reason why this might be the part of the inspector general’s report that will have longer-lasting implications is that Attorney General Barr has already signaled that he sees something nefarious about the briefing that took place on January 6th. The topic came up during his interview with Fox News reporter Bill Hemmer, sparking a whole new line of conspiracy theories.

Speaking of his investigation of the investigators, Barr says that the briefing on January 6th is one of the “strange things” they’re looking into. He went on to refer to the “leaking of information subsequent to that meeting.”

The good news is that this report from the inspector general, when read in its entirety, puts those questions to rest. What we’ll learn in the coming weeks is whether or not the attorney general is willing to lie about this document the way he did when he released the Mueller report.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.