Former FBI Director James Comey used a personal email account to conduct some government business, according to a critical government watchdog report released Thursday.
A new report from the Justice Department inspector general cites five specific instances in which Comey used his personal Gmail for his work with the FBI, although does not say that any classified information passed through his private account. The department’s IG was tasked with broadly reviewing the FBI’s handling of its probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account while she served as secretary of State, as well as allegations of bias in the bureau.
"We found that … Comey’s use of a personal email account on multiple occasions for unclassified FBI business to be inconsistent with the DOJ Policy Statement," the report states.
The revelation has left many people scratching their heads, given that Comey himself was tasked with overseeing the Clinton investigation.
watchdog report even cites a speech Comey gave in October 2016 in which he specifically warns against using personal Gmail accounts to conduct classified government business.
But Comey told investigators that his Gmail use for FBI work was limited to situations where he was technologically restrained or working on drafts of unclassified remarks. And he stressed that his personal email was never used for classified or sensitive work.
The report details several specific instances of Comey’s personal email use.
In December 2016, Comey forwarded an email from his unclassified FBI account to his personal account that included “a list of FBI employees” with those individuals’ titles, office, contact information and other details.
In March 2017, Comey sent a note to his personal email and his then-chief of staff James Rybicki containing several drafts of Comey’s proposed opening statement for his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee.
Comey defended his actions as a product of convenience.
“I did not have an unclass[ified] FBI connection at home that worked,” Comey told the inspector general. “And I didn’t bother to fix it, whole ‘nother story, but I would either use my Blackberry, must have been or Samsung … my phone, I had two phones — a personal phone and a government phone," he told investigators, according to the report. "Or if I needed to write something longer, I would type it on my personal laptop and then send it to Rybicki, usually I copied my own address.”
“And so I would use, for unclassified work, I would use my personal laptop for word processing and then send it to the FBI,” he added.
Rybicki added that Comey would delete everything from his Gmail account each day, as well, "to ensure a high level of cybersecurity."
And Comey noted that he "was always making sure that the work got forward to the government account to either my own account or Rybicki."
Comey specifically said he thought his email use was in line with FBI regulations, but that he wasn’t positive.
“I think so, but I don’t know,” he conceded. “I remember talking to Jim [Rybicki] about it at one time, and I had the sense that it was okay.”
Still, the report notes that Comey publicly denounced the practice of using a private email account to conduct potentially classified government work in an October 2016 speech at the FBI’s annual SAC Conference in San Diego.
“I have gotten emails from some employees about this, who said if I did what Hillary Clinton did, I’d be in huge trouble,” Comey said. “My response is you bet your ass you’d be in huge trouble."
He added: "If you used a personal email, Gmail or if you [had] the capabilities to set up your own email domain, if you used an unclassified personal email system to do our business … even though you were communicating with people with clearances and doing work you discussed classified matters in … those communications … you would be in huge trouble."
While not addressing Comey’s Gmail use specifically, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she wasn’t surprised by any of the report’s broad findings.
“The president was briefed on the IG report earlier today,” Sanders said at a briefing. “It reaffirms the president’s suspicions about Comey’s conduct and the bias about some members at the FBI.”