White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders won’t say it outright, but the West Wing is pushing the Department of Justice to investigate former FBI Director James Comey. After Sanders defended Donald Trump’s decision to fire Comey with a litany of accusations on Tuesday, she followed up during Wednesday’s press briefing by outlining the makings of a legal rationale, however thin, for prosecuting him.
“The memos that Comey leaked were created on an FBI computer while he was the director,” she began, referring to a memo Comey shared with a personal friend that was later leaked to the New York Times. “He claims they were private property, but they clearly followed the protocol of an official FBI document, leaking FBI memos on a sensitive case regardless of classification violates federal laws including the privacy act, standard FBI employment agreement and nondisclosure agreement all personnel must sign. I think that’s pretty clean and clear that that would be a violation.”
Asked what she wanted to see happen, Sanders demurred, saying she wasn’t an attorney but again added, “I think the facts of the case are very clear.”
Sanders may not be an attorney, but the notes she read from the podium while delivering that answer were clearly written by one. And while the question of whether Comey violated any laws by leaking the personal notes he took isn’t new, the White House is now accusing Comey of a different infraction than it originally did.
“WOW, Comey is a leaker!” Trump tweeted on June 9, following Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Trump’s lawyer Marc Kasowitz phrased it differently, accusing Comey of “unilaterally and surreptitiously” making “unauthorised disclosures to the press of privileged communications with the president”.
Now the White House appears to be moving away from an executive privilege argument toward a broader charge that Comey violated his employment agreement with the FBI and the law dictating the handling of government documents. Let’s leave that debate to the lawyers for now—surely, they’ll take it up.
But the White House’s smear campaign points to one thing: Robert Mueller’s investigation is making the Trump administration very, very nervous.