Comey, Anderson Cooper clash over whether memo release violated FBI rules

Former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyDay one impeachment hearings draw 13.1M viewers, down 32 percent from Comey hearings There are poor ideas, bad ones and Facebook's Libra Trump has considered firing official who reported whistleblower complaint to Congress: report MORE on Wednesday defended himself amid questioning from CNN host Anderson Cooper over whether he violated FBI policy by leaking memos of his conversations with President TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation MORE.

Cooper pressed Comey on his decision to leak a memo to a friend after he was fired in May 2017 during a CNN town hall event at William & Mary.

“Is it OK for somebody at the FBI to leak something, an internal document, even if it’s not classified? Isn’t that leaking?” Cooper asked.

“Well, there’s a whole lot wrong with your question, Anderson,” Comey responded.

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Comey said he shared an unclassified memo documenting a conversation with the president to a friend and asked that friend to relay the substance of the memo to The New York Times. 

Comey added that he leaked the document as a private citizen, even though he wrote it while he was FBI director. As a result, he said, he did not “leak memos.”

“I think of a leak as an unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” Comey said.

“Really? That’s it?” Cooper said.

“That’s how I thought of it as FBI director. We investigated leaks. Unauthorized disclosures,” Comey responded. “The bottom line is, I see no credible claim by any serious person that that violated the law."

President Trump has branded Comey as a “liar” and “leaker," claiming the ex-FBI director shared classified information. Since the start of Comey’s recent media blitz promoting his new book, Trump claimed Comey's leaks led to the appointment of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' MORE, suggesting the entire process was illegitimate.

Comey rejected Trump’s claim, saying he thinks the president is “just making stuff up.” 

Cooper noted that one of Comey’s recently released memos documented a conversation in which the then-FBI director and Trump discussed the importance of stopping leaks. Comey wrote that he laughed when the president suggested jailing reporters who publish leaks.

Asked about the exchange Wednesday, Comey said that he laughed to make it clear he thought the comment was a joke.