Internal FBI emails indicate White House lied about support for Comey's firing

Over 100 internal FBI emails written by FBI managers indicate the White House "was lying" about people in the bureau supporting Director James Comey's firing.

james comey fbi cyberconference
REUTERS/Brian Snyder

When President Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey last May, the White House “was lying” by claiming that people in the bureau had “lost confidence” in Comey. That in itself was fake news considering not one of the 103 pages of emails written by FBI managers expressed anything other than shock and dismay at Comey’s firing.

In fact, after seeing a CNN report about Trump firing Comey, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit office emailed, “I hope this is an instance of fake news.”

We know this because the emails were obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request by Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare and the Brookings Institution. Granted, Wittes is a friend of Comey’s, but that doesn’t change what was revealed in the FBI internal emails.

Wittes decided to file the FOIA request for FBI managers’ emails referencing Comey’s firing after hearing the official White House statements and President Trump called Comey a “nut job.”

After Trump fired Comey, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “I have heard from a large number of individuals that work at the FBI that said that they're very happy with the president's decision.”

She claimed to have personally spoken with “countless” FBI officials – “between email, text messages” but wouldn’t play the “numbers game” by saying how many people at the bureau were happy about Comey’s firing. “The rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director,” she claimed.

The truth, according to Wittes, is that the “White House was lying.”

Not mincing words, Wittes said the same thing to NPR:

The White House spent the week after the Comey firing lying about it. The day we stop correcting grotesque political misstatements of truth is the day we normalize this kind of lying. And the reason we have laws like the Freedom of Information Act is so that people can hold government accountable for statements and check whether they're true.

“In the 103 pages that I reviewed,” Wittes said to NPR, “not a single example of anybody saying anything that reflected that the FBI was in turmoil - at least not before the firing - or that they appreciated what the president had done, or that there was anything other than affection for Jim Comey and admiration for him.”

Not all of the internal FBI emails, made available on Lawfare, are emotional, but many are. For example, the Special Agent in Charge of the Knoxville field office wrote, “I know you all know our director stood for what is right and what is true. He truly made us better when we needed it the most.”

The post on Lawfare gives many examples of these emails, including this snippet:

Kathryn Turman, assistant director for the Office for Victim Assistance, wrote to her staff, “Our hearts may be heavy but we must continue to do what we do best, which is to protect and serve the American people.” John Bennett, the special agent in charge in San Francisco, stated: “These events are hard to hear and harder to comprehend.” In St. Louis, Special Agent in Charge William Woods said that “I’m sure we are all feeling a wide range of emotions regarding the firing of Director Comey by President Trump.” And in Phoenix, Special Agent in Charge Michael DeLeon acknowledged that “everyone is surprised and we are certainly disappointed with the events surrounding this matter.” In an earlier email, he wrote: “We all felt the pain associated with the loss of a leader who was fully engaged and took great pride in the FBI organization and our employees. Simply stated, Director Comey will be missed.”

These sentiments fall in line with what the then-Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe told the Senate. Shortly after the firing, McCabe testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence despite a “diversity of opinions on many things,” the “majority” of the 36,500 people who make up the FBI “enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey;” he had “broad support within the FBI and still does today.”

In the words of the Lawfare authors:

The amount of warmth in the emails, both about Comey and for their people, is atypical of all-staff communications. These leaders operate at the highest level of the FBI; in a chain-of-command organization, they aren’t particularly accessible figures. But these emails, which were sent to entire divisions or field offices, are personal and intimate. Without overstating the matter or getting maudlin about it, it’s safe to say that these messages show leaders who are shaken and concerned. There is emotion in their voices and a deep concern for their people. One special agent in charge, who was out of state at a training, even offered to come back to the office if any of her people needed to talk to her.

Granted, the emails don’t show what the rank and file may have thought about Comey’s firing, but they definitely contradict with the White House’s claims.

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