Watchdog Files Open Records Requests Seeking Comey’s Personal Emails

Report by IG only details small number of emails sent from personal computer

James Comey / YouTube Screenshot
June 14, 2018

The watchdog group Cause of Action filed new Freedom of Information Act requests late Thursday in response to the Department of Justice inspector general’s report that revealed former FBI Director James Comey occasionally used his personal email to conduct bureau business.

The long-awaited report detailed and assessed the bureau's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation beginning in 2015 and into 2016 which concluded with then-Director Comey giving a press conference in which he said the evidence against Clinton did not rise to a level requiring charges to be filed.

However, among the numerous findings in the 500-page report was the note that some government business had been conducted on non-FBI email accounts.

"We identified numerous instances in which Comey used a personal email account to conduct unclassified FBI business," the IG report said. "We found that, given the absence of exigent circumstances and the frequency with which the use of personal email occurred, Comey’s use of a personal email account for unclassified FBI business to be inconsistent with Department policy."

The FOIAs were filed with both the FBI and DOJ and seek "all emails sent or received by former FBI Director James Comey or former FBI Chief of Staff James Rybicki on a personal email account."

"The IG report raises serious questions about Director Comey’s 'extremely careless' use of personal email for official government business while investigating Secretary Clinton for similar conduct," said Kevin Schmidt, the director of investigations at Cause of Action. "The report notes that there were 'numerous instances' of Comey using a Gmail account for FBI business, and that's why we have opened an investigation to uncover the full extent of his problematic use of personal email."

Cause of Action specializes in government transparency through the use of the Freedom of Information Act and, when necessary, suing when documents are improperly withheld. The group has previously worked to obtain documents that originated from personal devices but dealt with government business.

For example, they filed a lawsuit seeking many of the government-related emails from former secretary of state Colin Powell, emails that had gone through his AOL account.

More broadly, the IG's report was highly critical of many of the actions of Comey and other high ranking officials in the bureau, but concluded that the overall investigation was not tainted by any political bias.

For example, the inspector general criticized Comey's decision to hold the press conference in which he said charges would not be brought against Clinton because Comey kept the decision to make this announcement to himself.

"We found that it was extraordinary and insubordinate for Comey to do so, and we found none of his reasons to be a persuasive basis for deviating from well-established Department policies in a way intentionally designed to avoid supervision by Department leadership over his actions," the report said.

The White House weighed in on the report's release as well.

"It reaffirms the president's suspicions about Comey's conduct and the bias among some of the members at the FBI," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.